Heart Attack Prevention
(How to Prevent a Heart Attack)

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Heart attack prevention definition and facts

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • About 735,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack each year – that's about one heart attack every 43 seconds!
  • 525,000 of those heart attacks are the first for the person affected, while 210,000 of them happen in people who have previously had a heart attack.
  • Symptoms of a heart attack in men and women include
  • Women experience the same symptoms of a heart attack as listed above; however in addition women may have
  • Leading a heart-healthy lifestyle such as eating a heart healthy diet, exercise, stress reduction, and disease prevention or management is the best way to prevent heart disease and heart attack.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when the flow of blood that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is significantly reduced or cut off completely. This is often a result of atherosclerosis, a process whereby the arteries narrow due to a buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, and other substances). Sometimes these plaques can break off, and blood clots can form around them. The clots in the coronary arteries then block blood flow to the heart, starving it of oxygen and nutrients (ischemia), causing damage or death to heart muscle. This damage to the heart muscle is a heart attack. Heart attack is medically termed myocardial infarction (MI).

Quick GuideHeart-Healthy Diet: 25 Foods to Protect Your Cardiovascular System

Heart-Healthy Diet: 25 Foods to Protect Your Cardiovascular System

Heart Disease Symptoms in Women

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, and heart attack symptoms and signs can be different for women than for men, for example:

  • Chest tightness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sweating

What are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack in men and women?

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort or pain that may feel like pressure or tightness
  • Squeezing, or fullness discomfort in one or both arms
  • Back, neck, jaw or stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath, which may or may not be accompanied by chest discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sweating

Sometimes people having a heart attack experience no symptoms at all. The medical term for this is silent ischemia, commonly referred to as a "silent" heart attack.

If you think you are experiencing signs of a heart attack, call 911 immediately!

Are signs and symptoms of a heart attack different in women?

Women also experience chest pain and discomfort as a symptom of a heart attack. But women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Sometimes the symptoms of a heart attack in women are more subtle, such as

If you think you are experiencing signs of a heart attack, call 911 immediately!

What are the signs and symptoms of heart disease (cardiovascular disease)?

Heart disease is often called the silent killer, because often people do not experience symptoms until they have a fatal heart attack.
Early signs of heart disease include:

What can I do to prevent heart disease or a heart attack?

  • Leading a heart-healthy lifestyle with a nutritious low-fat diet and exercise is the best way to prevent heart disease and heart attack.
  • A heart-healthy diet includes nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Fat and sugar should be limited.
  • Regular exercise can also help keep you at a healthy weight and prevent heart disease and heart attacks.
  • Other tips for lifestyle changes that can help prevent heart disease or a heart attack include not smoking, limiting alcohol, reducing stress, and managing diabetes and high blood pressure.

What kinds of diets are recommended to prevent heart disease and heart attacks?

A heart-healthy diet is full of:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Lean poultry
  • Fish
  • Nuts

Limit:

  • Sugar
  • Red meat
  • Sugary sodas

There is evidence that natural plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diets may be helpful in preventing and even reversing heart disease.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan that helps manage high blood pressure and is effective in reducing the risk of heart attack.

What tips and lifestyle changes can be made to prevent heart disease and heart attacks?

Leading a heart-healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent heart disease and heart attack. Follow these tips to reduce your risk factors for heart attack.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Manage diabetes and blood pressure.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Reduce stress (take stress management classes or yoga)
  • Take prescribed medications as directed.

Quick GuideHeart-Healthy Diet: 25 Foods to Protect Your Cardiovascular System

Heart-Healthy Diet: 25 Foods to Protect Your Cardiovascular System

Will exercise reduce my risk of having heart disease and a heart attack?

Regular exercise can help prevent heart attacks. Just 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, 3-4 times per week can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. It also helps manage stress.

Exercise tips: Start slowly and work your way up to more time and intensity. Even just 10 minutes of light walking will benefit your health.

A tip is to find activities you enjoy such as

  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Tai Chi
  • Walk for 20 minutes and spend time with nature
  • Bike with family or friends
  • Take an exercise class at the community college
  • Go out dancing

What diseases or conditions put a person at a higher risk for heart disease or a heart attack?

The following increases your risk of heart attack:

What can you do if you are alone and think you are having a heart attack?

If you have a heart attack and are home alone when it occurs here are some tips help improve your outcome.

  • Know the symptoms of a heart attack. Keep your cell phone available at all times. If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Minutes count! Do this FIRST, before anything else.
  • If the 911 operator suggests it, take an aspirin if you are not allergic. Be prepared  talk to your doctor and find out if you should be on aspirin therapy to prevent a heart attack before it occurs.
  • The Internet has spread the idea of "cough CPR," however, the American Heart Association does not endorse this as a way to prevent heart attacks. If you are having a sudden abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) and are conscious you may be able to cough forcefully enough to maintain enough blood flow to the brain to stay conscious a few seconds more until the arrhythmia breaks. Coughing probably won't hurt, but always call 911 first.

REFERENCES:

American Heart Association. "What is Cardiovascular Disease." Updated: Sep 08, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp#.WA5Y4_krLX5>

American Heart Association. "About Heart Attacks." Updated: Sep 16, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/AboutHeartAttacks/About-Heart-Attacks_UCM_002038_Article.jsp#.VyJl7GbUkuI>

American Heart Association. "Cough CPR." Updated: Sep 30, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiacArrest/Cough-CPR_UCM_432380_Article.jsp#.VyJsDmbUkuI>

American Heart Association. "Understand Your Risk of Heart Attack." Updated: Sep 16, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/UnderstandYourRiskofHeartAttack/Understand-Your-Risk-of-Heart-Attack_UCM_002040_Article.jsp#.VyJveWbUkuI>

American Heart Association. "Warning Signs of a Heart Attack." Updated: Sep 29, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp#.VyJn-mbUkuI>.

American Heart Association. "Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention." Updated: Sep 16,2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Lifestyle-Changes-for-Heart-Attack-Prevention_UCM_303934_Article.jsp#.VyIqhWbUkuI>

. "Aspirin and Heart Disease." Updated: Sep 19, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Aspirin-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_321714_Article.jsp#.VyJrBmbUkuI>

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Heart Disease Facts." Updated Aug 10, 2015.
<http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm>.

Michael Greger, MD. "Heart Health." Updated: Oct 26, 2016.
<http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/heart-health/>.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health. "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease." Updated: Apr 21, 2014.
<https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hdw/signs>

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Reviewed on 10/24/2016
References
REFERENCES:

American Heart Association. "What is Cardiovascular Disease." Updated: Sep 08, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp#.WA5Y4_krLX5>

American Heart Association. "About Heart Attacks." Updated: Sep 16, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/AboutHeartAttacks/About-Heart-Attacks_UCM_002038_Article.jsp#.VyJl7GbUkuI>

American Heart Association. "Cough CPR." Updated: Sep 30, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiacArrest/Cough-CPR_UCM_432380_Article.jsp#.VyJsDmbUkuI>

American Heart Association. "Understand Your Risk of Heart Attack." Updated: Sep 16, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/UnderstandYourRiskofHeartAttack/Understand-Your-Risk-of-Heart-Attack_UCM_002040_Article.jsp#.VyJveWbUkuI>

American Heart Association. "Warning Signs of a Heart Attack." Updated: Sep 29, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp#.VyJn-mbUkuI>.

American Heart Association. "Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention." Updated: Sep 16,2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Lifestyle-Changes-for-Heart-Attack-Prevention_UCM_303934_Article.jsp#.VyIqhWbUkuI>

. "Aspirin and Heart Disease." Updated: Sep 19, 2016.
<http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Aspirin-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_321714_Article.jsp#.VyJrBmbUkuI>

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Heart Disease Facts." Updated Aug 10, 2015.
<http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm>.

Michael Greger, MD. "Heart Health." Updated: Oct 26, 2016.
<http://nutritionfacts.org/topics/heart-health/>.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health. "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease." Updated: Apr 21, 2014.
<https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hdw/signs>

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