Surprises with your heart health

Sep 13, 2013 by Keith Murray

Earlier this summer, I got news that my friend Ron was rushed to the hospital. Ron is a very fit, 49-year-old man. He eats right, exercises and is not someone you would think of when you think of heart attacks.

About a year ago, Ron had pain in his chest. He went to several doctors and they told him it was his gallbladder. He canceled his vacation to Europe and had his gallbladder removed.

After the surgery he still felt pain, but they told him that was normal. But the pain never went away, and at times it was worse.

The pain was also causing Ron to lose energy, he felt weak. On his flight home from a business trip, the symptoms got even worse so he sought medical treatment. Fortunately, this time he met with a cardiologist who found that Ron had a blockage of more than 95 percent in the artery leading to his heart.

Was this Ron’s problem all along? Why did it take so long to discover this problem? Since Ron’s father had bypass surgery in his 40s, why wasn’t his family history taken into account earlier by his doctors?

I do not know, but it did prompt me to write this article reminding you that doctors make mistakes. If you don’t feel good or do not like the answer your doctor gives you, get another opinion.

So how can we recognize a heart attack? A heart attack — or myocardial infarction — is usually caused by a blood clot that stops the flow of blood in the artery of the heart. Blockage of a coronary artery deprives the heart of oxygen-carrying blood. Waiting for treatment can be fatal.

In the ’70s TV show Sanford and Son, Fred Sanford used to grab his chest and stumble about, pretending to have a heart attack. But not all heart attacks are like that. Sometimes, the symptoms are more subtle.

Symptoms of heart attack may include chest pain or discomfort in the center of your chest. This pain may come and go for minutes at a time. Other symptoms include discomfort in the upper body, including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, indigestion, dizziness, weakness or rapid or irregular heartbeats.

Women are more likely than men to experience the more subtle symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back, neck or jaw pain.

Women take note: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. Many people think this only affects men but CVD, which includes heart disease, hypertension, and stroke, affects a large number of women. It is estimated that one in two women will die of heart disease or stroke, compared with one in 25 women who will die of breast cancer.

It looks like a heart attack, now what? The first thing you must do is call 911 or radio for help. When a heart attack strikes, time is critical. Time equals muscle. The longer it takes to get medical care, the more damage occurs to the heart muscle. Doctors only have a few hours to restore the blood supply to the heart by unblocking the affected artery. Treatments such as the administration of clot-busting drugs to dissolve the clot, heart catheterization and angioplasty must be done in a hospital.

Until we get to the hospital, help the victim to a comfortable resting position. If you have a medical service or telemedicine device, call it. Doctors can assist if the victim is alert, able to swallow and not allergic to aspirin. Ask if the patient has prescribed medication such as nitroglycerin, which you can assist them in taking.

Do reduce your chances of heart disease, limit your intake of fat, sugars, sodium and salt. Eat more whole grains, legumes, fresh produce and low fat dairy products. Eat lean meat, lean poultry and fish, and eat less.

Another way to help is exercising for 30-60 minutes each day. The American Heart Association recommends the following for healthy people: “For health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, perform any moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week at 50–85 percent of your maximum heart rate.”

Some of these activities include brisk walking, hiking, stair-climbing, jogging, bicycling, rowing, swimming or playing soccer and basketball.


Limiting your intake of alcohol is another way to help your heart. According to the Mayo Clinic “Moderate alcohol use seems to offer some health benefits, particularly for the heart. But too much alcohol raises the stakes, putting you at risk of adverse health consequences.”  Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks a day if you’re a male 65 and younger, or one drink a day if you’re a female or a male 66 and older. A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or Comments on this column are welcome at