Preventing Heart Disease
When Should My Loved One Go to the Emergency Room?
Call 911 if he or she has:
- New chest pain or discomfort that is severe, unexpected, and occurs with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, or weakness.
- Fast heart rate (more than 150 beats per minute) — especially if he is short of breath, too.
- Shortness of breath NOT relieved by rest.
- Sudden weakness or paralysis (inability to move) in the arms or legs.
- Sudden, severe headache.
- Fainting spell with loss of consciousness.
Women don’t always get the same classic heart attack symptoms as men, such as crushing chest pain that radiates down one arm. Those heart attack symptoms can certainly happen to women, but many experience vague or even “silent” symptoms that they may miss.
These six heart attack symptoms are common in women:
1. Chest pain or discomfort. It may feel like a squeezing or fullness, and the pain can be anywhere in the chest, not just on the left side. It feels like a vise being tightened.
2. Pain in your arm(s), back, neck, or jaw. This type of pain is more common in women than in men. It may confuse women who expect their pain to be focused on their chest and left arm. The pain can be gradual or sudden, and it may wax and wane before becoming intense.
3. Stomach pain. Sometimes people mistake stomach pain that signals a heart attack with heartburn, the flu, or a stomach ulcer. Other times, women experience severe abdominal pressure that feels like an elephant sitting on your stomach.
4. Shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness. If you’re having trouble breathing for no apparent reason, you could be having a heart attack, especially if you’re also having one or more other symptoms.
5. Sweating. Breaking out in a nervous, cold sweat is common among women who are having a heart attack. It will feel more like stress-related sweating than perspiration from exercising or spending time outside in the heat.
6. Fatigue. Some women who have heart attacks feel extremely tired, even if they’ve been sitting still for a while or haven’t moved much.
Not everyone gets all of those symptoms. If you have chest discomfort, especially if you also have one or more of the other signs, call 911 immediately.
All of us at the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center are deeply committed to help men and women prevent cardiovascular disease and manage risk factors such as family history, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol disorders and more.
In addition, our experts offer several free and low cost cardiovascular screenings in the community every year. Any many of our advanced research initiatives are looking at new ways to prevent heart disease in generations to come.
Behavioral Cardiovascular Prevention Program
Recently, we introduced a new program to provide access to medically supervised services, many of which are free of charge because they are connected with research studies, to help men and women reduce their risk of heart disease by adapting healthier lifestyles.
Our new program is being led by Nancy Petry, Ph.D., an accomplished, nationally recognized leader in the field of behavioral interventions to treat addiction disorders. We are delighted to have Dr. Petry and her colleagues on our team.
One of the first studies of our new program is looking at the impact of smoking and smoking cessation on high blood pressure, and is also comparing two approaches to help smokers kick the habit. (See box to the right.)
Weight Loss, Exercise
Other studies underway through the Behavioral Cardiovascular Program are looking at approaches to weight reduction, ways to encourage exercise, smoking cessation for individuals who do not have high blood pressure and more.
Heart Disease Prevention: What You Can Do
In principle, all people can take steps to lower their risk for heart disease and heart attack.
Here's additional information about prevention offered by the Centers for Disease Control:
Prevent and control high blood cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. Preventing and treating high blood cholesterol includes eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, keeping a healthy weight, and getting regular exercise. All adults should have their cholesterol levels checked once every five years. If yours is high, your doctor may prescribe medicines to help lower it. See the CDC's cholesterol fact sheet.
Prevent and control high blood pressure
Lifestyle actions such as healthy diet, regular physical activity, not smoking, and healthy weight will help you to keep normal blood pressure levels and all adults should have their blood pressure checked on a regular basis. Blood pressure is easily checked. If your blood pressure is high, you can work with your doctor to treat it and bring it down to the normal range. A high blood pressure can usually be controlled with lifestyle changes and with medicines when needed. See the CDC's high blood pressure fact sheet.
Prevent and control diabetes
People with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease but can reduce their risk. Also, people can take steps to reduce their risk for diabetes in the first place, through weight loss and regular physical activity. For more information about diabetes, see the CDC's diabetes program Web site.
Smoking increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Never smoking is one of the best things a person can do to lower their risk. And, quitting smoking will also help lower a person’s risk of heart disease. A person's risk of heart attack decreases soon after quitting. If you smoke, your doctor can suggest programs to help you quit smoking. For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see the CDC's tobacco intervention and prevention source Web site.
Moderate alcohol use
Excessive alcohol use increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. People who drink should do so only in moderation and always responsibly. More information on alcohol can be found at the CDC's alcohol and public health Web site.
Maintain a healthy weight
Healthy weight status in adults is usually assessed by using weight and height to compute a number called the "body mass index" (BMI). BMI usually indicates the amount of body fat. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Overweight is a BMI between 25 and 29.9. Normal weight is a BMI of 18 to 24.9. Proper diet and regular physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight. You can compute your BMI at the CDC's nutrition and physical activity program Web site.
Regular physical activity
Adults should engage in moderate level physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. For more information, see the CDC's nutrition and physical activity program Web site.
Diet and nutrition
Along with healthy weight and regular physical activity, an overall healthy diet can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. This includes eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lowering or cutting out added salt or sodium, and eating less saturated fat and cholesterol to lower these risks. For more information, see the CDC's nutrition and physical activity program Web site.
Related Guidelines and Recommendations
- The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure from the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute Web site.
- Third Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) from the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute Web site.
- Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Web site.
- Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
This report brings together, for the first time, what has been learned about physical activity and health from decades of research.
- Surgeon General's Reports Related to Tobacco Use
List of reports concerning smoking and health, including reports on tobacco use among ethnic groups and young people.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005
Dietary Guidelines for Americans is published jointly every 5 years by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Date last reviewed: October 22, 2007