Heart attacks happen all too often. Unfortunately despite our recent advancements in tackling cardiovascular disease, heart disease is still the number one killer. Plaques, made of cholesterol, fat, calcium, fibrin and other substances build up along the lining of blood vessels, narrowing their lumen and decreasing flow to the heart and other organs. As these plaques build they can become unstable and rupture. The rupture can tear the wall of the blood vessel and cause an immediate clot. This thrombosis obstructs blood flow as well.
A heart attack occurs when the muscle of the heart does not receive the blood supply it needs. The heart muscle becomes stressed, injured and can die. Dead heart muscle can’t contract, hence the heart cannot beat. Though some have lived through their ordeal with heart disease, such as Former President Bill Clinton, Larry King, Dick Cheney, Barbara Walters, many are not as fortunate. Carrie Fisher died December 27th after suffering a heart attack mid flight from London to Los Angeles. George Michael the same week died of “heart failure”. Alan Thicke, Growing Pains and beloved TV Dad, passed away from a thoracic aortic dissection. The blood flow dissects the lumen of the aorta, the main artery coming off the heart, and this side pooling within the vessel prevents adequate blood flow from getting to vital tissues. In many cases, the heart stops.
These deaths and many others sadly highlight the premature and abrupt passing of many of our favorite artists. These include:
Tom Petty (1950-2017) age 66 – accidental drug overdose, multi organ failure, cardiopulmonary arrest
Nelsan Ellis (1978-2017) age 39 – complications of heart failure
Bill Paxton (1955-2017) age 61 – stroke following heart surgery
Carrie Fisher (1956-2016) age 60
George Michael (1963-2016) age 53 – heart failure
Florence Henderson (1934-2016) age 82
James Garner (1928-2014) age 86
James Gandolfini (1961-2013) 51
Issac Hayes (1942-2008) age 65
Richard Pryor (1940-2005) age 65
John Ritter (1948-2003) age 54 – died of aortic dissection
Peter Sellers (1918-2002) age 83
Jerry Garcia (1942-1995) age 53
John Candy (1940-1994) age 44
Redd Foxx (1922-1991) age 68
Orson Welles (1915-1985) age 70
James Cagney (1919-1984) age 86
Bing Crosby (1903-1977) age 74
Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) age 71
Gracie Allen (1906-1964) age 58
and sadly more……
What causes a heart attack?
A heart attack occurs when part of the heart muscle fails to receive the blood and oxygen it needs. This can occur by arteries supplying the heart muscle to become blocked. Coronary artery disease can be caused by plaque build up from fats, sugars, calcium, fibrin that settle on the blood vessel wall. These plaques can build up and occlude the lumen, obstructing blood flow.
Additionally a heart attack can occur when an unstable plaque rips off, tearing the blood vessel lining causing the body to form an immediate clot. This clot can also be deadly as it obstructs the lumen as well.
What causes an aortic dissection?
Tragically, many do not know they are at risk. These risk factors include:
Age (greater than 65)
Connective tissue disease
Heart valve issues
Infection – such as tertiary syphilis
What causes heart failure?
When the heart, whose main function is to pump blood, is prevented from doing so, it begins to “fail”. For more on heart failure, read here:
Heart disease, however, can be prevented……..
Firstly, we must know our risk factors. These include:
Family history of heart disease
Personal history of heart disease
High Blood Pressure
Males over 40
Females who are post menopausal
and even short stature has been cited as a potential risk factor.
As you can see, many of us can be at risk for heart disease. Therefore secondly, we should be evaluated with an EKG, echocardiogram and any other exams our medical provider and/or cardiologist deem necessary.
Thirdly, reduce your risk by the following:
Maintain a normal blood pressure
Maintain normal blood sugar
Maintain normal cholesterol and lipid levels
Maintain a balanced diet, rich in potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables
Maintain a healthy weight.
Life Line Screening offers screenings for stroke, heart disease, lung disease, liver and kidney disease, testosterone deficiency, and so much more that can be done in a private setting at the work place for groups of employees. For more information call 1-888-815-LIFE.
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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and Board Certified Family Physician