8 hard and fast facts about heart attacks

What comes to mind when you think of heart attacks? A grey-haired, overweight man clutching his chest with one hand, lit cigarette in the other? His poor heart suffocating in fat, struggling to pump? His arteries filled with even more fat, preventing blood from flowing freely to where it’s needed most?

If that’s what you’re picturing, you’re not wrong, but if that’s ALL you picture then you’re not entirely right, either. It’s true that men get them more than women, smoking is a cause, and that the older you are, the more susceptible you are. But heart attacks are not always felt in the chest – nor are they necessarily OBVIOUS.

This is why it’s important to know your stuff when it comes to matters of the heart – your level of knowledge is literally the difference between life and death. So, without skipping a beat, here are 11 heart and fast facts for you right now.

1. Most heart attacks occur as a result of coronary artery disease, also known as heart disease. This is a condition where plaque (fat, cholesterol, waste) builds up inside the blood vessels (coronary arteries) that supply oxygen to your heart, limiting the amount of oxygen your heart muscle receives. Heart attacks happen when plaque completely OR partially blocks your coronary arteries.

2. Men over 65 years old are most at risk of heart disease and heart attacks. And children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. This means if you’re a man and heart disease runs in the family, then you need to focus on living a healthy lifestyle more so than the average person. If you’re over 65 – healthy living is even more of a priority.

3. Women are less likely to have a heart attack, but, according to research, 3x more likely than males to die after having one. Why? A combination of reasons:

·         One study found that women receive unequal care and treatment from medical professionals.

·         Another survey reported that only 65% of women said they’d call an ambulance if they thought they might be having a heart attack.

·         Symptoms can present differently in women than they do in men. As a result, many women are not familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack and don’t realise when they’ve had one. The thing is, 85% of heart damage happens in the first 2 hours following a heart attack – so awareness and immediate treatment is the key to survival.

4. Common heart attack symptoms in men include:

·         Chest pain/pressure that feels like “an elephant” sitting on your chest with a squeezing sensation that may come and go OR remain constant

·         Upper body pain or discomfort – this may happen in your arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach

·         Rapid or irregular heartbeat

·         Stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion

·         Shortness of breath

·         Dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out

·         Breaking out in a cold sweat

5. Research has found that women report chest pain less frequently than men. It can still happen – and should never be ignored, but the most common symptoms for women are:

·         Unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden, severe fatigue

·         Sleep disturbances

·         Anxiety

·         Light-headedness

·         Shortness of breath

·         Indigestion or gas-like pain

·         Upper back, shoulder, or throat pain

·         Jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw

·         Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach

·         Rapid or irregular heartbeat

·         Sweating

6. You have the power to lower your risk of having a heart attack. If you don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, keep your cholesterol and blood pressure low, exercise, manage your stress, eat healthy and nutritious foods, drink in moderation, and sell your firstborn? Then you can keep your risk low – regardless of your gender, age or genetics. (Jokes. Pls don’t sell your firstborn.)

7. Your resting heart rate (RHR) can predict your risk of heart disease. When researchers looked at data from over 100,000 postmenopausal women, they found that those with a RHR more than 76 bpm were 26% more likely to have a heart attack or die from one than those with a RHR of 62 bpm or less. The scientists reported that a RHR at the lower end of the spectrum may offer some protection against heart attacks.

When you’re at rest, your heart shouldn’t have to work too hard to keep you alive. If your RHR consistently sits above 80 bpm, have a chat to your doctor about your personal risk for heart disease and heart attacks.

Your heart does so much for you. It’s time to return the favour.

All that stuff going on inside your body can be a bit of a mystery, which is why we love fitness trackers so much! That Fitbit or Apple Watch sitting silently on your wrist is collecting data about your heart you simply can’t ignore. Your RHR and VO2max TELL you what is going on with your heart. It’s up to you to decipher what these numbers mean – and then make them the best they can be.