Made up of four chambers and a series of valves, your heart is the motor of your circulatory system. It beats an average of 115,200 times per day to provide the blood, oxygen and nutrients your body needs to stay alive. However, your heart can become diseased, which threatens its ability to keep your body ticking.
Heart disease takes more lives in the U.S. than anything else—in fact, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. That’s why understanding the symptoms of a heart attack, what your risk factors are and how to prevent one from happening are vital components of leading a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Heart Attack Symptoms
When your heart is unable to get the blood it needs, it is called a heart attack. Most heart attacks begin with subtle symptoms—so don’t downplay them. If your symptoms last longer than a few minutes, call 911.
Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pain or discomfort in the chest—such as a squeezing feeling, uncomfortable pressure, or fullness—especially if it disappears and comes back after a few minutes
- Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulders
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness, lightheadedness or faintness
Other symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Feeling tired for no reason
Prevention and Risk Factors
Unfortunately, there are risk factors, such as older age, family history and race, that you can't change. The good news is many risk factors for heart disease can be controlled with lifestyle modifications or medication.
Risks factors you can change include:
- Being overweight. A healthy body mass index—or an estimate of body fat using the ratio of height to weight—is between 18.5 and 25 kg/m².
- Being physically inactive. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, per week.
- Chronic stress. Find ways to manage stress, such as practicing positive self-talk, finding a creative outlet or establishing a practice to diffuse stressful situations.
- High blood pressure. A healthy blood pressure range is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower. Eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and exercising regularly are just a few ways to help keep your blood pressure in check.
- High triglyceride/cholesterol levels. A normal triglyceride range is less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mm/dL). You have two main types of cholesterol: LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. A poor diet, being overweight, low physical activity and smoking all affect both your triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Smoking. An Altru Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist can help you quit this dangerous habit for good.
- Drinking. Drinking too much alcohol is linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. For a healthier heart, men should limit to one to two drinks per day, while women should have no more than one drink per day.
- Type 2 diabetes. When your body does not respond to insulin like it is supposed to and your pancreas cannot produce enough of it, this causes your blood sugar levels to rise—a condition known as Type 2 diabetes. Similar to managing cholesterol and weight levels, eating a healthy diet is an important part of preventing and/or managing Type 2 diabetes.
- Unhealthy diet. Limiting saturated and trans fats is an important part of maintaining good cardiovascular health. Plan meals that focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, legumes and healthy fats, such as avocados and olive oil.
It’s never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating better and becoming more physically active. Learn what is and isn’t in your control when it comes to heart disease.
The American Heart Association presents: ‘Just a Little Heart Attack.’