Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men (and women) and 1 of 8 men over age 40 will be victims of sudden cardiac arrest. This makes June – which is both National Men’s Health Month and CPR & AED Awareness Month – a good time to revisit ways to prevent heart disease.
Charles Katzenberg, MD, a cardiologist with the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center who emphasizes a healthy lifestyle as the best prevention against heart disease, offers these tips:
- Eat a healthful diet. “People should eat as close to a whole-foods, plant-based diet as possible,” said Dr. Katzenberg. Minimize meat and dairy, since these are associated with heart disease. Also, minimize calorie-dense oils, including olive oil, which contains 15 percent saturated fat and 1 percent omega-3, compared to canola oil, which contains 7 percent saturated and 11 percent omega-3. Dr. Katzenberg notes that the first Mediterranean Diet study, called the Diet Heart Study, used canola oil, not olive oil. Avoid trans fats, added salt and added sugars. Learn to read food labels.
- Avoid weight gain. While a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) is in the 18.5 – 24.9 range, the 25-30 range is reasonable for heart health, said Dr. Katzenberg. (A link to determine your BMI is on Sarver Heart Center’s “Heart Health” website.)
- Exercise aerobically (walk, jog, bike, swim, circuit weights, aerobic exercise classes) three to four hours each week. Include a few minutes of warm-up and cool down in each session.
- Avoid smoking, including electronic-cigarettes. “E-cigarettes are tools to help quit smoking, but we don’t know if they will have negative long-term effects, so I would only use these short term while stopping cigarettes,” said Dr. Katzenberg.
- Know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and, if necessary, follow treatment prescribed by your doctor to keep these under control.
- Stress is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and is associated with elevated blood pressure and poor lifestyle choices in areas of diet, exercise, smoking and weight management. Learn to recognize unhealthy stress and use tools and mechanisms to modify your response. “Stress management is different for everyone,” said Dr. Katzenberg. “Some people relax by reading a book or listening to music. Others benefit from tai chi, meditation, yoga or exercise. Find out what works for you and do it 30 to 60 minutes each day to remove destructive stress from your life. Seek help if you need to learn ways to manage your stress.”
What if you do your best to follow a healthy lifestyle and you still develop heart disease? There are risk factors for heart disease no one can control, such as advanced age and genes. It’s important to know the signs of a heart attack and to seek early heart attack care when symptoms occur, to minimize heart muscle loss.
Not all heart attacks look the same. Some people experience extreme chest pain that many consider the classic heart attack. Others experience milder symptoms where damage occurs over a period of hours. In such cases, symptoms may include chest discomfort, such as pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain that lasts a few minutes, goes away and comes back. Discomfort in the upper body – one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or upper stomach are other symptoms to watch for, as are shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, weakness and fatigue. People having heart attacks generally look unwell, so if a friend or loved one comments that you look ill, pay attention to your symptoms.
If you experience these symptoms or signs, call 911. Don’t drive yourself or have anyone else drive you. Time is heart muscle. Emergency transport to a cardiac receiving center gives a heart attack patient the best chance of saving heart muscle.
If the worst happens, a person may suffer a sudden cardiac arrest – suddenly collapses and is not responsive. Know the “3 Cs” of chest-compression-only CPR:
- Check for responsiveness - Shake the person and shout, “Are you OK?” Rub the chest bone with your knuckles.
- Call - Direct someone to call 9-1-1 and bring an AED. If you are alone, call 9-1-1 yourself if the person is unresponsive and struggling to breathe.
- Compress - Begin forceful chest compressions at a rate of 100 per minute. Position the victim backside down on the floor. Place the heel of one hand on top of the other and place the heel of the bottom hand on the center of the victim’s chest. Lock your elbows and compress the chest forcefully; make sure you lift up enough between compressions to let the chest recoil.
If an AED (automated external defibrillator) is available, turn the unit on and follow the voice instructions. If no AED is available, perform chest compressions continuously until help arrives. This is physically tiring so if someone else is available, take turns after each 100 chest compressions.
Chest-compression-only CPR, which was researched and developed at the UA Sarver Heart Center, has been shown to double a person’s chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest, compared to mouth-to-mouth CPR or doing nothing.