Actor James Gandolfini died yesterday at the age of 51 while on vacation with his 13-year-old son in Italy. Best known for his role as Tony Soprano on the HBO hit “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini’s performance as the conflicted mobster won him fans all over the world, particularly in the home state of both Gandolfini and his character, New Jersey. While the cause of death has not yet been verified, it’s been reported that Gandolfini died of a heart attack, the number one killer of men and women in the United States.
While an issue as serious as heart health is always worthy of our attention, the loss of a beloved public figure to the disease has the positive effect of bringing awareness to a heightened level, at least for a time. What is a heart attack, what causes it, who does it affect, what are the symptoms, and what can be done to avoid it? Find out the answers to those questions below, and share the information with your loved ones:
What is a heart attack?
Heart attacks usually stem from coronary heart disease, a condition in which the arteries pumping blood and oxygen to the heart are narrowed or closed by built up plaque. When these arteries are clogged to the point that very little to no blood makes it to the heart, a heart attack occurs. Often, it’s a combination of blocked arteries and reduced blood flow due to stress or strenuous physical activity. Another less common cause of heart attacks are severe arterial spasms.
What causes heart attacks?
As explained above, heart attacks are usually caused by coronary heart disease. Often, people don’t even know they’re suffering from this condition. But there are a number of risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, depression, and chronic stress. Every adult should see the doctor annually for monitoring of these risk factors, but those individuals who know they’re at risk should be especially cautious about undergoing regular check-ups and working with a doctor to reduce the risk of heart attack.
While arterial spasms are rare, they can affect people with heart disease, as well as those with healthy hearts. These spasms can be triggered by tobacco use, extremely cold temperatures, emotional stress, and drug use.
Who does heart attack affect?
While many are surprised at Gandolfini’s passing at only 51-years-old, the truth is that heart attacks can strike anyone with any of the risk factors, no matter their age. Age and family history also do play a part. Those with a family member with heart disease, men over 45, and women over 55 are more at risk.
What are the symptoms of heart attack?
Unfortunately, heart attacks aren’t always obvious events. They can occur without symptoms, earning them the name, “the silent killer.” Chest pain or discomfort, discomfort in the upper body, particularly the back, neck, jaw, or stomach, shortness of breath before or during chest pain, nausea, vomiting, cold sweat, lightheadedness, and fainting are other possible signs of a heart attack.
What can be done to avoid heart attack?
Your best chance at avoiding coronary heart disease and the potential for heart attack is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Avoid foods that are processed and high in sodium and cholesterol, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, drink in moderation or not at all, avoid stress, and maintain a healthy weight. Most importantly, see your doctor annually, or as directed to manage any chronic conditions you may have.
If you believe you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.