Heart Health–What You Need to Know
2016 was heartbreaking. The record amount of celebrity deaths left us stunned. Some of us began blaming the year itself as the culprit for the high number of deaths. Other discussions have pivoted around the idea that many of these untimely deaths can directly or indirectly be linked to current or past drug and/or alcohol use/abuse. There are some statistics that support a decline in lifespan from today’s elderly generation to that of the Baby Boomers or Gen Y. Why? More exposure to both recreational and prescription pharmaceuticals. For every study or expert who shows that trend, there is another that contradicts it, saying that we are all still living longer than humans have ever lived. Proving only that it is too soon for experts to agree. What we do know is that many of 2016’s unexpected deaths were related to heart health; Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds. George Michael and Alan Thicke to name a few.
While the number of high profile deaths shocked us this last year, the reality is that heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and/or stroke are the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Although by now it shouldn’t, people are often still surprised to learn that heart disease kills approximately one woman every minute in the U.S. The notion of heart disease belonging to men is incorrect.
2016 left us questioning how seemingly healthy and fit people suddenly suffer from deadly heart attack or failure? And, most importantly, what can you do if you think it's happening to you or a loved one?
Surviving Cardiac Arrest
First and foremost, we must recognize and not ignore the warning signs of heart attack for men and women, in others and ourselves.
Common Symptoms for Men:
“Elephant on my chest,” pain directly in the chest, and discomfort or pain in other areas, such as one or both arms, the neck, jaw, back, or stomach. Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, or sweating. Abdominal discomfort that may feel like heartburn.
Common Symptoms for Women:
Chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, extreme fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, pain in one or both arms, upper back pressure, neck and jaw pain, breaking out in a cold sweat.
Once cardiac or heart arrest is suspected, call 9-1-1. Don’t hesitate or “wait and see” – call immediately and then quickly get to work on helping the patient.
According to Jonathan Epstein, a paramedic and CPR instructor for the American Red Cross in Washington, the following steps should be followed.
#1. “The most important thing we can tell the public (is) when you recognize that someone has collapsed suddenly, even if they are unresponsive and show no signs of life, start chest compressions," Epstein said. “For every minute we waste of not starting CPR…we lose about 10 percent of survivability."
#2. There's no need to breathe into someone's mouth. Just push hard on the chest, over the heart, to keep blood pumping to the brain. Press down two inches in depth at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute. Push every half-second, push hard and push fast. “That is absolutely the best thing we know that will improve chances of survival," Epstein added.
#3. We need to understand that we can help and not be afraid to try to do so. We must be willing to get on the ground and help. Don’t worry about doing something wrong. Doing nothing is the worst thing to do. If you remember one thing, remember this, push hard and fast until paramedics arrive.
Whether you are rich and famous or an everyday Joe, the survival rate of heart attack or cardiac arrest is approximately 10 percent or less. Many reports find that uncoordinated emergency and hospital response play a big factor. Another large factor is that only 3% of the population gets CPR training each year. Training people in cardiopulmonary resuscitation is important, as is having automated external defibrillators (AEDs) handy.
Are you certified in CPR? Ask your employer about employee training. Many HR departments will offer CPR training or reimburse expenses. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Five Steps to Heart Safety
Genetics do play a role in heart disease but the majority of heart disease can be prevented or controlled by healthy lifestyle choices. Working out, healthy diet, quit smoking, lower cholesterol, lose excess weight, watch blood pressure and blood sugars. And, there are precautions to take before or after a physical exertion, especially if you are middle-aged. Here are a few takeaways to stay heart safe.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Fitness experts say the health benefits actually come from how often you exercise, not how intensely. Strenuous exercise doesn't just mean running a marathon, lifting heavy weights or playing a competitive game of hockey. It can also be shoveling your driveway after a big snowfall or heavy lifting while cleaning the house or moving. Remember to warm-up and cool down, avoid too much exertion, too quickly.
2. Sudden Symptoms
Don’t ignore any weird symptoms you suddenly experience! It is reported that Alan Thicke had the classic sign of a heart attack, chest pain, but also the more subtle signs like nausea and vomiting. Listen to your own body and pay attention to sudden upper body symptoms, like:
• chest pain
• shortness of breath
3. Call 911
If you personally experience discomfort or troubling symptoms, the first thing to do is go inside and sit down. If you don't start feeling better in a matter of seconds — remember, seconds, not minutes — call 911 immediately.
After calling 911, get some aspirin into your system quickly by chewing a single full-sized 325-mg aspirin. Aspirin is heart attack first aid and it stops platelets from clumping together which helps to stop the clot from building up. Studies now tell us the best way to get the aspirin in your system as quickly as possible is to chew rather than swallowing the aspirin.
5. Time is Not on Your Side
A heart attack cuts off blood flow to one of your body’s strongest muscles, which is why it hurts. Even more importantly, once the heart muscle gets damaged, it's permanent. A damaged heart doesn't beat as efficiently. Waiting longer to get treated increases the risk of additional muscle damage.