It is 3am. As I struggle to wake up and rush to the ER, I learn that a young person is already struggling to overcome his most silent and ferocious enemy-heart disease.  As I walk into the ER, I realize that the emergency staff have been working on him for 20 minutes.  While his heart has stopped 3 times, CPR and defibrillation have managed to let his wife hold onto the last hope for survival.  Without any words and only with a devastated look from her eyes, I understood what she was desperately asking for.  The electrocardiogram had confirmed our initial suspicion. A massive heart attack was taking the last beats of his heart.  As we rushed him into the catheterization suite to try to unplug his heart artery and stop the heart attack, his heart once again stopped and we resumed all maneuvers to artificially jumpstart it.  As the resuscitation team worked on his chest, the catheterization team started working to get to his heart with the hope of stopping the heart attack. We finally found what we suspected, a massive blockage had damaged his heart beyond means of survival.  As he grasped his last breath, among our eyes we could see each other’s frustrations and sadness.  We had lost another battle against heart disease, and he had lost the battle for his life. Our sadness was nothing compared to the agony and suffering of a family that, just a few feet away in the waiting room, was waiting to receive the news that would change their lives forever- dad had died. Heart disease had taken another life and changed the life of a family forever.

Are you ready for the fight of your life?  If I told you that you have to defeat the number one cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women, would you be ready?

Coronary artery disease is a condition that entails cholesterol plaque building up and blocking the arteries of the heart, leading to multiple manifestations.  It is the leading cause of death in the  US.  This condition can cause diminished blood supply to the heart muscle and promotes blood clot formation inside the diseased segment leading to complete occlusion of the artery and immediate and many times irreversible damage to the heart muscle. This process begins early in life and progresses throughout one’s life promoted by different factors, many of them modifiable. Conditions like diet, sedentary life, stress, tobacco use, genetics, and diseases like diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure, are known to predispose to the development of this condition.

Coronary artery disease can remain dormant for many years (silent coronary artery disease); however, at any time and age it can strike without warning, changing your life forever.  If blockages develop over time, they usually manifest as chest pain or angina because adequate blood flow can not supply the required oxygen and nutrient components to the heart.  If the blockage leads to a  clot and abrupt cessation of circulation, a heart attack may be the first manifestation and many times without warning and fatal. If damage occur, the patient’s heart may weaken and develop heart failure, which leads to the building up of fluid and frequent symptoms like shortness of breath.  Weak hearts can lead to arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, usually in the middle of the chest; however, sometimes heart pain can feel like indigestion. The discomfort can radiate to the arms, jaw, neck, back, or stomach and can be associated with shortness of breath and sweating.

HOW TO PREVENT HEART DISEASE

The most important steps to prevent this condition are:

The American Heart Association recommends starting prevention by age 20 by assessing your risk factors and keeping them low.

Stop smoking

Choose good nutrition

Reduce blood cholesterol and lower high blood pressure

Be physically active

Keep a healthy weight

Manage diabetes

Reduce stress and limit alcohol

Remember, don’t be a victim of the number one cause of death in America. Prevent it!

by Guillermo Salinas, M.D.