Heart attacks happen when a blockage in your coronary artery causes part of your heart muscle to be starved of blood and oxygen. As the British Heart Foundation explains, early treatment to get the blood flowing to the damaged part of your heart muscle again can save your life and limit the amount of permanent damage to your heart muscle. A key part of early treatment is recognising the warning signs associated with having a heart attack.
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Certain symptoms associated with having a heart attack are easy to spot, such as pain or discomfort in your chest that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away.
A more subtle symptom to watch out for is sweating that cannot easily be explained.
According to David Newby, BHF John Wheatley Professor of Cardiology at the BHF Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Edinburgh, working up a sweat when you’ve been to the gym or because it’s a really hot day, is nothing to worry about.
“But feeling hot and clammy along with chest pain is a sign that you should call an ambulance,” warns Newby.
According to the NHS, other symptoms include:
- Pain in other parts of the body – it can feel as if the pain is travelling from your chest to your arms (usually the left arm is affected, but it can affect both arms), jaw, neck, back and tummy (abdomen)
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
- An overwhelming sense of anxiety (similar to having a panic attack)
- Coughing or wheezing
“Although the chest pain is often severe, some people may only experience minor pain, similar to indigestion,” notes health body.
In some cases, there may not be any chest pain at all, especially in women, older people, and people who have diabetes.
“It’s the overall pattern of symptoms that helps to determine whether you are having a heart attack,” adds the health site.
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How to prevent a heart attack
Making lifestyle changes such as following a healthy, balanced diet offers the best defence against having a heart attack.
Increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables, for example, has been shown to provide heart-healthy benefits.
A meta-analysis of cohort studies following 469,551 participants found that a higher intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, with an average reduction in risk of four percent for each additional serving per day of fruit and vegetables.
Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack.
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It is also important to drastically cut back on or avoid saturated fats to reduce your risk of having a heart attack.
Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of LDL cholesterol, a waxy substance found your blood that can lead to coronary heart disease.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- Fried foods
- Sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- Ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
- Hard cheese
- Cakes and biscuits
- Foods that contain coconut or palm oil
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, which can be monounsaturated fats (for example olive oil, rapeseed oil, almonds, unsalted cashews and avocado) or polyunsaturated fats (including sunflower oil and vegetable oil, walnuts, sunflower seeds and oily fish) are a healthier choice.
A Mediterranean-style diet consists largely of unsaturated fats, and a growing body of evidence demonstrates the protective benefits of following this diet.
A large-scale cohort study published in JAMA Network Open found that a 25 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among study participants who consumed a diet rich in plants and olive oil and low in meats and sweets – key components of a Mediterranean diet.
Commenting on the findings, lead author Shafqat Ahmad, PhD, a research fellow at the Brigham and at the Harvard Chan School said: “Our study has a strong public health message that modest changes in known cardiovascular disease risk factors, particularly those relating to inflammation, glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, contribute to the long-term benefit of a Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease risk.
“This understanding may have important downstream consequences for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”
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