On a beautiful October day in 2005 I came face to face with the reality of my poor health. The morning started with me leaving work with flu symptoms. By noon, I was in an ER surrounded by doctors and nurses treating me for a heart attack. The news was not good. Two days later I was in cardiac intensive care recovering from triple cardiac bypass surgery. I left the hospital thirteen days later due to complications that arose during surgery. Needless to say I do not want to repeat this experience again.
February is American Heart Month. It is a time when Americans are called to reflect on their heart health. Although cardiac heart disease is not entirely preventable, there are steps that each of us can take to lessen the threat of a heart attack. As a heart attack and coronary bypass survivor, I use this occasion and my experiences to educate my readers on this subject.
The Warning Signs
Do you know the warning signs of a heart attack? Eight years ago I would have answered that question as most people do with “chest pain and numbing of the left arm”. Those were not my symptoms. I was sweaty and nauseated. Visit the American Heart Association Warning Signs of a Heart Attack page to learn more.
- Chest discomfort that last for several minutes or comes and goes
- Discomfort in arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
If you are suffering the above symptoms, time is of essence. Five minutes can be the difference between life and death. It is important to call 9-1-1 to be transported to the ER. I was foolish and opted to call my partner. I went home. He drove me to the hospital. I even waited patiently in line in the ER. I was extremely lucky. Do not follow my steps. Call 9-1-1 and get yourself to a hospital ASAP.
Preventing a Heart Attack
Coronary heart disease is a complex animal. Many factors come into play when identifying the root causes of this disease. I have a long family history of heart disease. I cannot erase that history, but I can mitigate it. The American Heart Association has put together an on-line resource to educate Americans on how they can alter their lives to lessen the chance of having a heart attack. Life’ Simple 7 explores the seven steps each of us can take to live a heart healthy life.
- Get Active. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Ride your bicycle in the park. Play ball with your kids. Take the stairs at work. Park in a far parking space and walk.
- Eat Better. Eat lean protein. Avoid fats, sugars, pasta, and bread. Avoid processed foods. Eat fruits, vegetables and natural foods.
- Lose Weight. Being active and eating better helps with this. Work towards a goal weight. Ask your doctor to work with you on a doable weight loss plan.
- Stop Smoking. Tobacco contributes to numerous health issues. Say good bye to the cigarettes. Your body will love you.
- Control Cholesterol. You may still suffer from high cholesterol if you follow the above habits. High cholesterol is treatable. See your doctor and take medication to bring it under control.
- Manage Blood Pressure. Hypertension can be related to obesity and a poor diet. It can also be hereditary. See your doctor. If an Rx is needed, take it regularly to control it.
- Reduce Blood Sugar. Diabetes has a disabling effect on the body. The heart is no exception. Be aware of your blood sugars and treat them accordingly.
The good news is that you can make a positive change in your heart health. Eight years after my heart attack I find my heart health to be greatly improved. I have improved my diet and exercise regularly. I have lost weight, do not smoke, manage my high blood pressure and control my cholesterol with medications.
My cardiologist he gave me a telling statistic at my last annual visit. If I had continued on the path I was on eight years ago, I had a 60% chance of having another heart attack. With the changes I have made over the past eight years, I have a 2% chance of having another heart attack. Now that is progress!