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We often use the terms heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest interchangeably, but they are not the same medical issue. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked and sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. A heart attack involves blood circulation and sudden cardiac arrest involves electrical impulses.

 

The Basics

 

The average heart:

beats about 100,000 times each day and 95 million times a year.

beats more than 2.5 billion times in the average lifetime.

pumps 5 gallons of blood per minute and 2,000 gallons of blood each day.

 

The Heart Is a Muscle

 

The heart is complex and can be affected by diseases that impact the muscle itself, the valves or the vessels. Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. The heart is just like any other muscle in the body, in that it needs oxygen, which is carried by the blood, in order to function properly. When the arteries that supply blood to the actual physical heart muscle become blocked, that section of the heart muscle begins to die. The blockage is most often a buildup of fat and cholesterol. The longer a person goes without treatment the greater the damage and a full-blown heart attack is the result.

 

The Heart Is an Electrical System

 

Each beat of the heart is an electrical impulse. The electrical impulse signals the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. When the electrical impulse is interrupted or malfunctions it causes an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. When the electrical system abruptly shuts down the heart cannot pump oxygen filled blood to the heart itself, the brain lungs, and other parts of the body. Seconds later, a person stops breathing and passes out. If not treated immediately, death is the result. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation(CPR) or a defibrillator can improve the chances of survival if done until the emergency workers arrive.

 

Some common heart attack signs and symptoms include:

Pressure, tightness, pain or a squeezing or aching sensation in the chest or arms that may spread to the neck, jaw, or back.

Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.

Shortness of breath.

Cold sweat.

Fatigue.

Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

Not all symptoms are the same for everyone. Some heart attacks strike suddenly, but many people can have signs for hours, days or weeks in advance. Some have mild symptoms, while others have severe symptoms. For some the first sign of heart trouble is death, - sudden cardiac arrest. I know of 5 people who have died of sudden cardiac arrest.

 

Risk Factors

 

 Men and women generally share the same risk factors for coronary artery disease:

Tobacco.

High blood pressure.

High blood cholesterol or triglycerides levels.

Obesity.

Diabetes.

Illegal drug use.

Alcohol.

Lack of physical activity.

Stress.

Family history of heart attacks.

And in today’s world we have to add the fact that a COVID-19 infection may damage someone’s heart in ways that can result in a heart attack.

 

Prevention

 

Consult with your physician regarding any medications that you may need or are currently taking.

Lifestyle factors. As always: Maintain a healthy weight with a heart healthy diet, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, manage stress, and keep other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure uncontrol.

Being aware of how our heart functions is one way to help make sure it functions properly for a long, long time.

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