If you’re at risk for cardiovascular
disease, take heart. Medical advances
are lowering the risk of heart attack and
improving outcomes for cardiac patients.
“Cancer has recently passed heart
disease as the leading cause of death in
the United States for patients under 85
years of age,” says cardiologist Michael
Hudson, M.D., co-director of the Henry
Ford Hospital Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. “This is
due to cholesterol-lowering drugs, decreased smoking rates
and better hospital treatments. Doctors are treating heart
attack patients more aggressively, and those who receive
prompt care have a much better survival rate.”
There’s also good news for people who recently had a heart
attack. A cardiac rehab program can help you change your
lifestyle and make a full recovery.
What’s a Heart Attack?
Coronary artery blockage is the main cause of a heart attack.
The culprit is coronary artery disease (CAD), a buildup of
plaque and cholesterol that can occur over months or years.
“When plaque in an artery breaks open or ruptures, a blood
clot can form and block blood flow to the heart,” Dr. Hudson
Typical heart attack symptoms include chest pain or
pressure, fatigue, shortness of breath or fainting.
“Don’t take chances if you think you’re having symptoms,”
Dr. Hudson says. “Go to a hospital or urgent care center
immediately. A false alarm may be inconvenient, but heart
attack patients who get prompt care have the best
Don’t take chances if you think you’re having symptoms
go to a hospital or urgent care center immediately.
Take This to Heart:
A Brighter Outlook for Cardiac Patients
You may have CAD risk factors due to family history,
smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels,
diabetes, obesity, lack of physical activity and stress.
“Tests designed to detect CAD, like stress tests, nuclear scans
and CT scans, unfortunately aren’t effective in preventing
heart attacks,” Dr. Hudson says. “It’s better to talk with your
doctor about lifestyle changes or medications to reduce or
lower your risk.”
Not all heart attacks are treated the same. Patients are
generally prescribed a combination of blood thinners and
blood pressure medications along with blood tests and an
electrocardiogram (ECG), and may undergo a stress test or a
“Blood tests, ECGs and imaging tests give us a good sense of
the damage done to the heart,” Dr. Hudson says. “In severe
cases, a patient may require an immediate angiogram or
angioplasty, or receive a clot-busting drug to help restore
Heed Heart Attack Warning Signs
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center
of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
Symptoms may include:
Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling
in the chest
Shortness of breath
Nausea or vomiting
Pain, pressure or a strange feeling in the
back, neck, jaw or upper belly, or in one or
both shoulders or arms
Lightheadedness or sudden weakness
A fast or irregular heartbeat
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately
if you think you’re having a heart attack. Don’t try
to tough out these symptoms. Every second counts!
Medication and procedures like angioplasty can get
blood flowing back to your heart and save your life.
To reopen an artery, doctors can perform coronary
angioplasty and stenting. Doctors insert a long, thin tube
called a catheter through an artery in the patient’s groin or
wrist. The catheter is fitted with a small balloon and travels
to the blocked artery. The balloon inflates to remove the
blockage and restore blood flow. Doctors may also insert a
stent – a small metal coil – to help keep the artery open.
“Immediate angioplasty and stenting is the most effective
treatment for patients experiencing a major heart attack,”
Dr. Hudson says.
Coronary bypass surgery is another option. Doctors can
restore blood flow by sewing veins or arteries at a site
beyond the blocked artery.
Following a heart attack, most patients take four to six
different prescription medications to help the heart recover
and reduce the chance of a future attack. Many doctors
also prescribe a cardiac rehabilitation program. A team of
doctors, nurses, dietitians, exercise therapists and physical
therapists design diet and exercise programs to help
patients adopt a healthier lifestyle and reduce their risk of
future heart problems.
“Most cardiac rehab programs last between one and three
months,” Dr. Hudson says. “Patients often return to work
and are just as active – or even more active – than they were
before the heart attack.”
Even though heart attacks aren’t as deadly as they once
were, it still pays to be heart smart. Talk to your personal
care physician (PCP) about your risk for heart disease. You
can also find an interactive
Heart Attack Risk Calculator
the online HAP Health Library. Log in at
, choose the
Health & Wellness
Tools and Resources
, and then
. The Heart Attack Risk Calculator is