Am I at risk for a heart attack and what are some of the symptoms?

By: Dr. Hector Soto

A heart attack is usually caused by the rupture atherosclerotic plaque, or a cholesterol plaque, that has formed in one of the heart arteries. This plaque usually occurs because of multiple risk factors. Some are very frequently seen and very prevalent like hypertension which is something that is easily treatable. There are a lot of medications that can help keep this well controlled. Hypertension is a very important risk factor, not only for heart attacks, but also for heart failure, irregular heart rhythms and strokes. That said it is very important to control hypertension by going to routine visits with your family physician. Your family physician can also do blood tests to check your cholesterol level. High cholesterol is another risk factor for the development of these plaques and heart attacks. Just like with hypertension, there are very effective medications to bring these levels down.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack can vary. The typical symptom that the patient will present to their doctor or at an emergency facility would be complaining of severe chest pressure, tightness and heaviness. Some people describe it as an elephant sitting on your chest. It is usually associated with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, sweats, and shortness of breath. Normally the pain is located in the center of your chest, but it may travel down to the left arm, back and jaw. In some cases, patients may not experience any of these symptoms, for instance, women tend to have atypical presentation, with less severe pain, some tingling, sharp discomfort, and a little pressure. Sometimes, it’s not in the chest but in the back, the arm, or in the jaw. Sometimes patients will complain of symptoms of nausea, indigestion or a feeling that they ate something that didn’t sit well – and ignore it, thinking that it is a stomach situation and not a heart attack. It is very important to recognize these early symptoms, especially if you are somebody that is at risk.

Smoking is a terrible habit which is one of the modifiable risk factors for this disease. We always encourage our patients to stop smoking, and there are medications and different aides to help us achieve these goals in that regard. Weight loss and exercise can make a significant difference is lowering someone’s risk of heart attack. While achievable, these life style changes can be very challenging for patients, so we work with our patients to create a plan and insure that they are encouraged along the way. Ultimately, we all should be doing some exercise, like walking, for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. They say whoever does that lives longer and, lives better!