Of course you know what a heart attack looks like: the person stops whatever he’s doing, clutches his chest and with eyes wide open, collapses to the floor. Right?
Well, this is what TV programs and movies often picture and which majority of us unfortunately believe. In reality, one expert warns that having a heart attack is less dramatic and in fact, is often much tougher to spot from a distance.
According to Dr. Adolfo Bellosillo, head of the Makati Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation and Preventive Cardiology Unit, knowing how to spot the subtle symptoms can save a loved one instead of just seeing him/her slowly slip away.
“The most common signs of heart attack in both men and women include the unusual heavy pressure—like there’s a ton of weight on you—in the center or left side of the chest. Another is experiencing a sharp upper body pain in the neck, back and jaw,” says Bellosillo. He adds that if a person complains of sudden shortness of breath, sweats excessively, and feels too tired or too weak, you better take him to the nearest hospital.
“Unlike in TVs and movies, most heart attacks do not make you pass out right away. Instead, you may feel dizzy or light-headed first. These feelings are often written off as having a less serious cause,” says Bellosillo who, as president and founder of the Foundation for Lay Education on Heart Diseases, organizes regular free public lectures on ways to prevent heart diseases and why practicing a healthy lifestyle keeps one from being rushed to the hospital.
The doctor reminds people not to waste time trying home remedies or waiting for the symptoms to go away. “Remember, quick thinking can save a life,” he notes.
Bellosillo says the heart is an organ people generally do not pay much attention to—until it starts “complaining.”
“A number of factors can either have positive or negative impacts on one’s cardiovascular system. Some of them, such as age, gender and a personal or family history of heart disease, are beyond anyone’s control. The good news is you can change some of the other factors that affect your cardiovascular health,” Bellosillo says.
Here are some life-saving tips the doctor suggests:
1 Maintain a well-balanced diet by incorporating whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean meat such as chicken and fish into your diet. Select foods that are not too fatty or salty, especially processed ones.
2 Be active. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the key factors in developing heart disease. Even 30 minutes of moderate exercise—walking, running, biking or swimming—five or more days per week can do wonders for your heart, not to mention the rest of your body.
3 Control cholesterol and blood pressure. While cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad, having high levels of the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol as compared to “good” (HDL) is one of the direct risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure also contributes to heart disease and is also directly related to developing a heart condition, or experiencing a heart attack.
4 Refrain from smoking as it weakens the blood vessels and lowers good cholesterol levels (plus it makes the heart work harder to pump blood). “If you smoke, I strongly encourage you to quit or enter into a program that could help you quit eventually,” Bellosillo says.
5 Visit your doctor regularly. Like cars, our heart needs regular checkup and maintenance. Make it a priority to schedule a regular appointment with your doctor as nearly half of all sudden cardiac deaths happen outside the hospital, which suggests that many people are unaware of the early warning signs of a heart disease.
“Standard checkups can already detect many of the risk factors for heart disease. Once detected, your doctor will be able to suggest further tests to really identify what ails your heart. He’ll be able to prescribe medications and implement lifestyle changes to get your heart on a path to better health,” Bellosillo concludes.