Heart attacks are something most people have heard about. Children are told about an evil monster called a ‘heart attack’ and how exercise and healthy eating can keep it away later on. Older people and others more susceptible to heart attacks are taught to recognize its symptoms and get help. Many of us know someone who has experienced one, or even more, heart attacks in their lives and that it’s a very real thing. But despite this awareness, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women, killing over 600,000 Americans each year. For perspective, that’s more than the population of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati combined.
To understand how to prevent these deaths, we need to first understand what causes them. A heart attack occurs when there’s not enough blood flow to a part of the heart. This is often due to coronary heart disease, a condition that results from a waxy-like substance called plaque building up in the arteries. If enough plaque accumulates, arteries can be so blocked that blood flow to a part of the heart essentially stops. This is so dangerous because, without the blood flow, the heart doesn’t receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs and starts to die. If the heart dies, so do other organs.
Some heart attacks are caused by genetics – until scientists come up with biological white-out to correct DNA, there’s little helping those. But, many heart attacks can be prevented by limiting or eliminating some bad habits and developing some good ones. Lifestyle habits that increase the risk of having a heart attack include:
- Unhealthy eating (foods high in saturated and trans fat, sugars and sodium and other fun things)
- Lack of physical activity
- Gaining weight
- Constant stress
- Smoking cigarettes
In fact, the World Health Organization found that smoking caused 1/10th of the world’s cardiovascular disease. One of the most recommended habits to develop is exercising about 2.5 hours per week. Besides lowering blood pressure, exercise helps weight loss, which reduces the amount of strain being put on the heart.
But even if everyone did everything by the book, heart attacks would still happen. So when they do, it helps a lot to recognize the warning signs and act quickly. Some of these signs include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Upper body discomfort
- Nausea or cold sweats
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
However, not every heart attack starts with the sudden, crushing chest pain and limited breath that we see in the movies. In fact, some heart attacks have such simple beginnings that it would be paranoid to think something was wrong. This was the case for Kashmiri Mittal, who we interviewed in this Skylar Spotlight.