Tag Archives: Risk factor

Straight, No Chaser: Heart Attack Recognition – Time is Tissue


Heart Attacks. Myocardial Infarctions. Acute Coronary Syndromes. Coronary Artery Disease. Unstable Angina. There are many names to describe one main phenomenon. Heart attacks are the most common manifestation of heart disease, the #1 cause of death in the U.S. Today’s post is to heighten your sensitivity to risk factors and symptoms of a heart attack, because we’ve gotten very good at treating them—especially if you get to us in time.
Risk Factors
Who’s at risk of having a heart attack? If any of the following considerations look or sound like you, you should be especially sensitive to the symptoms I describe below. Please understand these are the rules. I also see the exceptions nearly every day.

  • Age: especially men over 45 and women over 55
  • Cocaine or amphetamine (meth) use
  • Family history of heart attacks: sibling, parents, or grandparents if their heart attacks occurred by age 65
  • High blood pressure: higher risk with obesity, smoking, diabetes, or high cholesterol[J1]
  • High cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • Obesity/inactivity: especially due to associations with high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol
  • Smoking: including prolonged exposure to second hand smoke

Again, if you have any of the above risk factors, your symptoms are more likely to be attributable to a heart attack. You may still have a heart attack without any of these risks.
How do you know if you’re having a heart attack? There’s no one-answer-fits-all response (like using FAST for strokes[J2] ). Heart attack pain comes in many varieties and is usually associated with other symptoms. What you should be aware of are the pain patterns that should prompt you to get evaluated. These may include the following:

  • Chest discomfort like pressure (something sitting on your chest), squeezing, fullness, indigestion, or just pain
  • Radiation of chest discomfort or just pain in other areas, such as one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Breaking out in a sweat
  • Racing, fluttering, or forceful beating of the heart
  • Lightheadedness up to or including blacking out

Again, you may have all of these symptoms or none of these symptoms in the face of a heart attack. We evaluate you based on the combination of your risk factors and your symptoms.
Bottom Line 1: If you have risks, symptoms and/or concerns, I’d much rather give you good news and education than give your family condolences. Get evaluated.
Bottom Line 2: I’m not discussing specific treatment options today (that’s for a future post), but remember two things:

  • Time is tissue, so the sooner you get to the Emergency Room, the more treatment options we have and the better your outcome is likely to be. This is not the disease to think, “It’ll just go away.” We can do our absolute best for you if you get to us within three hours of the start of your symptoms.
  • If and when something like this happens to me, the first thing I’m doing on my way the hospital is taking an aspirin.

As per routine, the combination of adequate prevention and prompt symptom recognition are key. I hope you share this with your families, especially those at immediate risk.
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Straight, No Chaser: The Reach of Breast Cancer and Your Risk Factors


Even as a physician, I am left to think about the horror of being a woman with a lifetime risk of acquiring breast cancer that’s 1 in 8. The only thing I can think of off-hand and relate to similarly is the risk for trauma being an inner-city minority kid. This risk of breast cancer is compounded by the reality that there is no way to prevent it. Thus, it must be emphasized early and often: risk factor identification and reduction, coupled with early evaluation, detection and treatment are absolutely vital.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer contracted by American women (after skin cancer), and it is the second most common cause of death from cancer (after lung cancer). More than a quarter of a million new cases will be diagnosed in women yearly, and approximately 40,000 women will die from complications of breast cancer annually (that’s over 100 deaths every day).
In the event the previous information seemed like too much gloom and doom, understand that the tide has been stemmed. After more than two decades of increase, rates of new cases of breast cancer began dropping in 2000 and have stabilized.  This is largely thought to be due to declining rates of post-menopausal hormone use in response to results from major research projects. As you may know, such hormone use has been shown to increase the risk of both breast cancer and heart disease.
Speaking of risks, I don’t especially like this part of the conversation because it always comes across as if everything is a risk factor, and there are still controversies about what is or isn’t a risk. As a result, patients end up confused and paralyzed into inaction. Therefore, I’ll mention just enough for you to understand and work with; if you have specific questions on what you’ve heard that I haven’t already addressed in the breast cancer myth posts (Parts I and II), feel free to ask.
There are risk factors you can’t change, like aging, family history and being a woman. Having these risk factors simply means you need to be more diligent in performing self exams and seeking early care for suspicious findings.  Now, there are other risk factors you can minimize. Oral contraceptive use, postmenopausal hormonal therapy, choosing not to breast feed, alcohol use and obesity are all risk factors for breast cancer that are under your control.
The bottom line is your risk factors don’t cause cancer, and the absence of risk factors doesn’t ensure you won’t have breast cancer. For example, men contract breast cancer as well. What it all comes down to is you must be diligent in performing exams and getting evaluated and treated if something abnormal is discovered. We’ll discuss some of that next.
I welcome your questions and comments.
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