HOUSE CALL: Know the symptoms of heart disease — it could save your life


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As we near National Heart Awareness month, I encourage you to know your risk factors — factors or lifestyle habits that increase your risk for heart disease. Good health is a commitment you make to yourself and also to your family. It means knowing your risk factors and your numbers — blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol. It also means responding immediately to your heart's warning signs.

It's alarming to me that most people only call 911 when they experience persistent, severe chest pain. Some people have warning signs that they dismiss from hours to days. The sooner an artery is open the chance of mortality and subsequent severe heart injury may be diminished by as much as 50 percent. Longer-term affects of severe muscle damage can also lead to further complications.

Symptoms are often associated with emotional upset, physical strain, stress and a syndrome called the apical ballooning syndrome, which relates to spasms in very small coronary arteries.

A heart attack is death to the heart muscle caused by an interruption in blood flow to the muscle. That's why time is crucial. It's very important that people call 911 at the onset of symptoms related to chest pressure, tightness, pain, sweatiness, nausea, symptoms associated with shortness of breath.

Any delay can often be a fatal delay. And, they should not drive themselves, so they're cared for by professionals in the field.

Cardiac symptoms can take on a number of presentations. Angina, for example, which is chest pain from the heart muscle, can occur anywhere from the very tip of our ears to the very pit of our stomach and everything in between. 

The discomfort can occur in the jaw, the teeth, the gums, the shoulders, elbows, wrists and can radiate through to the back. These symptoms sometimes are hard to decipher, but especially exertional symptoms should certainly be discussed with one's physician.

Women, in particular, with vascular risk factors, should check with their primary care physicians about taking an 81 milligram aspirin daily. Those who have had a heart attack, who have had previous stent work, or have known vascular disease or previous strokes, most assuredly should be taking a low-dose aspirin.

Aspirin acts very promptly on the platelet particles in the blood stream. And it helps promote diminished clot formation. This is a very important mode of therapy that should be used from the very outset of a heart attack.

Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active is so important to heart health. Consider eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy foods and fish. And when grocery shopping or eating out, look for dishes with less salt, and drink alcoholic beverages in moderation.

Every February you can obtain free health screenings at heart fairs. Mark your calendar and make this a priority. You can't change your family history or age, but you can modify your cholesterol and blood pressure numbers with better eating and exercise habits. It could save your life.


Dr. John Hess, III, is a board-certified interventional cardiologist on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. Dr. Hess is also medical director of the Outpatient Cardiac Catheterization lab.

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