Text for the Heart Attack Brochure

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What is a Heart Attack?

The heart is your body's hardest-working muscle, pumping blood throughout your body, day after day. Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. These reach the heart muscle via the coronary arteries. When the coronary arteries become narrowed or clogged and cannot supply enough blood to the heart, the result is Coronary Heart Disease. If some, but not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaches the heart, the heart may respond with pain called angina. When the blood supply to part of the heart is cut off

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completely, the result is a heart attack. The heart muscle that does not receive oxygen begins to die, and some of the tissue may be permanently damaged.

What Causes These Blockages?

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the primary cause of heart attacks. CHD is caused by a thickening of the inside walls of the coronary arteries. This thickening, called atherosclerosis (ath a row skle row sis), narrows the space through which blood can flow, decreasing and sometimes completely cutting off the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart.

Atherosclerosis usually occurs when a person has high levels of cholesterol, a fat-like substance, in the blood. Cholesterol and fat, circulating in the blood, build up on the walls of the arteries. The buildup narrows the arteries and can slow or block the flow of blood. When the level of cholesterol in the blood is high, there is a greater chance that it will be deposited onto the artery walls. This process begins in most people during childhood and the teenage years, and worsens as they get older.

In addition to high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking also contribute to CHD. On the average, each of these doubles your chance of developing heart disease. Therefore, a person who has all three risk factors is eight times more likely to develop heart disease than someone who has none. Being overweight and physically inactive are other factors that can lead to CHD. Overweight increases the likelihood of developing high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, and physical inactivity increases the risk of heart attack. Some individuals will live "high-risk" lifestyles and never have a heart attack; others will

Will I Get Better?

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for almost 50% of all deaths. Yet each year almost one million Americans survive heart attacks. These survivors can improve the quality of their lives, and reduce the chance of another heart attack, by working to reduce their heart disease risk factors. This brochure tells you how to reduce key coronary heart disease risk factors so that your recovery is smooth, and you can reduce your risk of further heart problems.

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Stop Smoking:

Already having had a heart attack is no reason to not quit smoking. The National Institute of Health reports that some individuals' risk of having a second heart attack is cut by 50% or more after they stop smoking. And then there's cancer...

There is simply no safe way to smoke. Although low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes may reduce the lung cancer risk somewhat, they do not lessen the risks of heart diseases or other smoking related diseases. The only safe and healthful course is not to smoke at all. There is nothing easy about giving up cigarettes.

If you can't quit the first time, keep trying. Most smokers "slip" three to five times before they quit for good. But as hard as quitting may be, the results are well worth it. In the first year after stopping smoking, the risk of coronary heart problems drops sharply. It then gradually returns to "normal"--that is, the same risk as someone who never smoked. So no matter what your age or health, quitting will lessen your chances of future heart problems.

If you're living with someone who smokes, realize that the reported dangers of second-hand smoke are real. Their smoking can kill you. As a heart attack survivor, this risk needs to be taken seriously....

Eat Healthy Foods:

After a heart attack, it's particularly important to control high blood pressure - a leading cause of future problems. Among the lifestyle steps that control high blood pressure are: losing excess weight, choosing foods low in salt and sodium, monitoring cholesterol, and limiting alcohol intake.

Excess body weight is linked with coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and death from heart-related causes. The more overweight you are, the higher your risk for future heart problems.

Salt and sodium both affect blood pressure, and must be watched. You should consume no more than about 1 teaspoon of salt a day. This includes ALL salt--that in processed foods or added in cooking or at the table.

If you drink alcohol, you should have no more than one drink a day

Extra cholesterol and fat in the diet cause buildup inside blood vessels. So, a high blood cholesterol leads to coronary heart disease. Once you have coronary heart disease, an elevated blood cholesterol increases your risk of further heart attacks.

Stay Active:

Although your heart has been damaged, the best cure isn't to sit around, avoiding activity. Rather, work with your doctor and cardiac rehab team to create a program that will allow you to return to an active lifestyle.

Exercise training, combined wit h improvements in your eating habits and a program of proper medications can actually stop the advance of coronary heart disease.

Even low- to moderate-intensity activity can help lower your risk. Examples of such activity are pleasure walking, stair climbing, gardening, yardwork, housework, dancing, and home exercise. To get heart benefits from these activities, do one or more of them every day.

Follow your doctor's advice, start slow, and look for opportunities to become more physically active throughout your day:

  • Use the stairs--up and down--instead of the elevator. Start with one flight of stairs and gradually build up to more.

  • Park a few blocks from the office or store and walk the rest of the way. Or if you ride on public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk a few blocks.

  • Instead of eating that extra snack, take a stroll around the neighborhood.

Together, you, your doctor and your cardiac rehab team can create a program to speed up your recovery.

Take Your Medications:

A healthy lifestyle will improve your heart's condition. But you can expect to be on a medication program too.

Medications are prescribed according to your specific condition. The symptoms of angina can generally be controlled by "beta-blocker" drugs that decrease the workload on the heart, by nitroglycerine and other "nitrates" and by "calcium-channel blockers" that relax the arteries, and by other classes of drugs. The tendency to form clots is reduced by aspirin or by other platelet inhibitory and anticoagulant drugs. Beta-blockers are given to decrease the chance of another heart attack.

For those with elevated blood cholesterol that is unresponsive to dietary and weight loss measures, cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed, such as lovastatin, colestipol, cholestyramine, gemfibrozil, and niacin. Impaired pumping function of the heart may be treated with digitalis drugs or ACE inhibitors. If there is high blood pressure or fluid retention, these conditions are also treated.

Ask your doctor about your medications, what each does, and whether there are any side effects. Knowing more will help you stick to the schedule that has been prescribed for you.