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Preventing a heart attack

People over 50 years old getting exercise

Getting active is one of Life’s Simple 7® steps the American Heart Association recommends to protect yourself from or control heart disease. More than one in three adults has some form of heart disease which increases risk for having a heart attack. The good news is 80 percent of heart disease (and stroke) can be prevented.

Seven steps to protect yourself from heart disease

Source: American Heart Association, Life’s Simple 7®

  1. Get active: Add physical activity into your daily routine.
  2. Control cholesterol:
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Eat only small amounts, if any, red meats and full-fat dairy foods.
    • Prepare foods with healthier fats, such as certain vegetable oils.
    • Avoid trans fats, also called hydrogenated fat.
  3. Eat better:
  4. Manage blood pressure:
    • Eat a heart-healthy diet (see #3).
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Do not smoke.
    • Maintain a healthy weight.
    • Limiting salt and alcohol.
    • Take medication prescribed by your doctor.
  5. Lose extra weight.
  6. Reduce blood sugar: Manage or prevent diabetes by eating right, controlling your weight, exercising and taking medication prescribed your doctor.
  7. Stop smoking:  Quit smoking and you’ll have the same risk level for developing heart disease as non-smokers within only a few years. Get Quit smoking resources here.

Check out My Life Check® from the American Heart Association, and receive a personalized heart assessment and customized life plan to kick-start a heart-healthy life today. 

About heart attacks

Who is at risk for a heart attack?

  • Everyone has a slight risk of having a heart attack. There are several factors that increase that risk -- some of these you can change and others you can't.
  • Factors you can't change are age, gender, heredity, race, previous cardiac problems, early menopause, and certain chronic diseases such as diabetes.
  • Factors you can change that will decrease your risk of heart attack are smoking, high blood pressure, overweight, poor nutrition, high cholesterol levels, stress, elevated blood sugars, and a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Most heart attacks occur between 4 and 10 a.m. -- your body produces increased amounts of adrenalin as you wake up from sleep -- this can sometimes trigger a heart attack.

What is the difference between a heart attack and a stroke?

  • A heart attack affects the heart whereas a stroke affects the brain.
  • Most heart attacks and strokes occur when the blood supply is greatly reduced or shut off from a portion of the heart or the brain. Most of the time it is a blood clot that becomes lodged in a narrow spot of a blood vessel of the heart or brain. If the blood supply is not restored fast enough then a portion of the heart or brain dies.

What are heart attack symptoms?

  • Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath:This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs:These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or becoming light-headed.
  • Silent heart attack: There are heart attacks that occur without any warning symptoms. These are called silent heart attacks. Famous Russian figure skater Sergei Grinkov died of cardiac arrest after suffering an apparent silent heart attack during a skating practice. 
  • Atypical symptoms: These are heartburn, nausea or sudden lightheadedness and sweating. Atypical symptoms are more common in women, diabetics and people older than 65.

What tests check one's risk for a heart attack?

  • Get your blood pressure checked periodically.
  • Get your cholesterol checked.
  • Check your weight.
  • Angiogram -- looks for blocked arteries (ordered by a physician if you are having symptoms.)
  • Heart scan -- MRI that looks for calcium deposits in the blood vessels around heart. The calcium deposits indicate a narrowing of the blood vessel.
  • Electro cardiogram -- checks the impulses that control heart muscles (ordered by a physician.)
  • Evaluate your own lifestyle:
    1. Do you get enough exercise?
    2. Do you experience a great amount of stress?
    3. Do you eat a heart healthy balanced diet?

What should you do if you think you are having a heart attack?

  • Stop whatever you're doing and sit down or lie down.
  • If someone is with you, let them know what is happening and allow them to help you.
  • If your symptoms do not get better within two minutes or if symptoms get worse, call 911 immediately. If someone is with you, have them call 911.
  • If someone is with you, have them get you an aspirin to take unless you are allergic to aspirin.
  • Wait for emergency help to arrive.
  • If you can get to the hospital faster by car, have someone drive you. Do not drive yourself to the hospital unless there is no other option.
  • When you get to the hospital, do not permit emergency room personnel to keep you waiting. Tell them that you may be suffering from heart attack and that you need to be seen immediately.

There is a significant decrease in heart damage if you can get treatment within an hour after onset of symptoms.

Heart Safe Communities program

Effective and immediate bystander CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) use can double if not triple a victim's chance of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest. Bloomington's Heart Safe Communities Program offers CPR and AED training to groups in the community at no cost. CPR training kits are also available to loan out for those who would like to learn CPR and AED use.

For more information or to schedule a training, contact us at 952-563-8900 or

Last update: February 2016