Heart disease can run in the family. Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other vascular conditions. However, it is also likely that people with a family history of heart disease share common environments and risk factors that increase their risk.
Heart Attack Signs
If the blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off, a heart attack can result. Cells in the heart muscle do not receive enough oxygen and begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart. Having high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, smoking, and having had a previous heart attack, stroke, or diabetes can increase a person's chances of having a heart attack.
According to the American Heart Association, about 700,000 Americans have an initial heart attack and another 500,000 have a recurrent heart attack each year. According to a CDC report, almost half of the cardiac deaths in 1999 occurred before emergency services and hospital treatment could be administered.
It is important to recognize the signs of a heart attack and to act immediately by calling 9-1-1. A person's chances of surviving a heart attack are increased if emergency treatment is given to the victim as soon as possible.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
The National Heart Attack Alert Program notes these major symptoms of a heart attack:
|Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.|
|Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.|
|Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.|
|Other symptoms. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat or feeling nausea or light-headedness.|
Heart Disease Prevention: What You Can Do
In principle, all people can take steps to lower their risk for heart disease and heart attack.
Prevent and control high blood cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. Preventing and treating high blood cholesterol includes eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, keeping a healthy weight, and getting regular exercise. All adults should have their cholesterol levels checked once every five years. If yours is high, your doctor may prescribe medicines to help lower it.
Prevent and control high blood pressure
Lifestyle actions such as healthy diet, regular physical activity, not smoking, and healthy weight will help you to keep normal blood pressure levels and all adults should have their blood pressure checked on a regular basis. Blood pressure is easily checked. If your blood pressure is high, you can work with your doctor to treat it and bring it down to the normal range. A high blood pressure can usually be controlled with lifestyle changes and with medicines when needed. See our high blood pressure fact sheet.
Prevent and control diabetes
People with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease but can reduce their risk. Also, people can take steps to reduce their risk for diabetes in the first place, through weight loss and regular physical activity. For more information about diabetes, see CDC's diabetes program Web site.
Smoking increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Never smoking is one of the best things a person can do to lower their risk. And, quitting smoking will also help lower a person's risk of heart disease. A person's risk of heart attack decreases soon after quitting. If you smoke, your doctor can suggest programs to help you quit smoking. For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see CDC's tobacco intervention and prevention source Web site.
Moderate alcohol use
Excessive alcohol use increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. People who drink should do so only in moderation and always responsibly. More information on alcohol can be found at CDC's alcohol and public health Web site.
Maintain a healthy weight
Healthy weight status in adults is usually assessed by using weight and height to compute a number called the "body mass index" (BMI). BMI usually indicates the amount of body fat. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Overweight is a BMI between 25 and 29.9. Normal weight is a BMI of 18 to 24.9. Proper diet and regular physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight. You can compute your BMI at CDC's nutrition and physical activity program Web site.
Regular physical activity
Adults should engage in moderate level physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. For more information, see CDC's nutrition and physical activity program Web site.
Diet and nutrition
Along with healthy weight and regular physical activity, an overall healthy diet can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. This includes eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lowering or cutting out added salt or sodium, and eating less saturated fat and cholesterol to lower these risks. For more information, see CDC's nutrition and physical activity program Web site.