Talk to Your Doctor

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 90 percent of people are aware that chest pain is a symptom of heart attack, but only about a quarter are aware of other symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, a sensation of heartburn, and feeling weak or lightheaded. Many people don't recognize or act on the early signs, putting themselves at unnecessary risk.

In 2008, over 400,000 Americans died from coronary heart disease. Unfortunately, the disease often fails to show up in noticeable symptoms until it's more advanced, meaning that you could be walking around with risk factors and not even know it. Talking to your doctor before you suffer a heart attack is the best way to avoid one in the first place.

When You Start to Experience Symptoms

If you wait until you begin to experience symptoms, you've actually waited longer than you should have for optimal results. Getting to the doctor right away, however, can mean the difference between life and death. The following are symptoms of a potential heart attack. If you experience these, get to the emergency room right away:

  • chest pain or discomfort, pressure, or squeezing
  • pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder, especially on one side of the body
  • shortness of breath
  • pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, or stomach
  • feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
  • breaking out in a cold sweat
  • nausea and/or vomiting

Other symptoms may not indicate an immediate heart attack, but may signal the presence of heart disease. If you experience any of these, make an appointment with your doctor right away:

  • strange fatigue that you can't explain
  • heart palpitations, or the feeling that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too fast
  • difficult or labored breathing
  • angina, or chest pain

When You Add Up Your Risk Factors

If your mother had a heart attack, or your dad is living with congestive heart failure, you are considered to be at a higher risk of heart disease. There are several other risk factors that can also make you more susceptible to heart problems. If one or more of the following apply to you, talk to your doctor about heart disease during your next visit:

  • a family history of heart problems
  • you smoke or have smoked in the past
  • high total cholesterol, low HDL "good" cholesterol, or high triglycerides
  • high blood pressure
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • overweight or obese
  • diabetes

Other factors that can also contribute to the development of heart disease include excessive stress, drinking too much alcohol, and eating an unhealthy diet. Talking with your doctor about these risk factors can help you implement changes in your daily lifestyle that can reduce your risk of a heart attack.

Your doctor may also be able to prescribe medications to help lower your cholesterol or blood pressure levels. If you’re a smoker, your doctor may also be able to suggest programs or prescriptions to help you quit smoking and further control your risk. According to the CDC, lowering your cholesterol or blood pressure can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease, having a nonfatal heart attack, or needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty.

The Time to Talk to Your Doctor Is Now!

Did you know that the American Heart Association recommends that heart attack prevention begin at the age of 20? That means that it's never too early to talk to your doctor about heart disease. By assessing your risk factors early, you can work to keep them low, raising your odds of avoiding heart disease as you age. Changing your lifestyle habits at a younger age is likely to be much easier than trying to add exercise or eat different foods when you turn 60 years old.

Schedule an appointment today. You could be taking the first step toward saving your life.