dr vivek baliga signs of a heart attack

4 Surprising Facts About Heart Attacks You Probably Did Not Know

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There are many facts about heart attacks that you may have read here on my blog or elsewhere on the internet. Here are some that I think might surprise you.

What Is A Heart Attack?

Before I dive into these facts, let’s take a brief look at what heart attacks are.

In my post about heart attacks, I mentioned that heart attacks occur because of reduced circulation of blood to the heart muscle.

To paraphrase, a heart attack is a condition where the heart does not get the blood supply it needs to function normally. This is because one or more arteries are blocked completely.

When these blood vessels are blocked, the heart screams out in pain, begging for blood to be delivered to its cells. This is the chest pain one experiences during a heart attack.

If treatment is not sought immediately, heart attacks can be deadly. The lack of blood supply can make the patient go into cardiac arrest.

Many of you will know that people who smoke, have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease are at a higher risk of heart attacks.

Here, I will not be discussing this. I will be talking about some little known facts about heart attacks that I think might surprise you.

Fact 1 – You Can Have A Heart Attack And Not Know It

Scary right? Heart attacks can be silent, and many people who have them don’t always know it.

A silent heart attack is usually seen in patients with diabetes. This is because diabetes can make the nerves insensitive.

Due to this, when the heart is screaming out for blood, the nerve fibers that are responsible for pain are oblivious to this.

According some certain clinical studies, over 60% of people who have a heart attack do not know it.

So how can you avoid this?

If you have risk factors for heart disease, then get yourself tested for the presence of narrowing in your heart arteries.

You can read this article on how to get tested here.

Fact 2 – Heart Attacks Usually Occur Early In The Morning

Did you know that most heart attacks occur in the early hours of the morning?

heart attack in the morningYes, clinical studies have found that heart attacks usually occur at around 5 to 6 am. However, the highest incidence is between 6 am and noon.

Heart attacks that occur around this time damage 20% more of the heart muscle as compared to heart attacks that occur later in the day.

But why is this the case?

Well, according to researcher, the early hours of the morning see a surge in a protein called plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, or PAI-1 in the blood.

PAI-1 increases the thickness of the blood, making it more likely to form a clot. If the clot forms in the heart arteries, it can block it off and cause a heart attack.

Earlier studies have shown that heart attacks occur more commonly between 1 am and 5 am. I have seen cases of both, though I have personally found most of them to occur between 5 am and 6 am.

Should you be worried? Not really.

As long as you follow the right steps to keep yourself healthy and fit, you reduce your risk significantly.

Fact 3 – Women Have The Same Chance As Men Of Getting A Heart Attack

It is well known that women tend to ignore their own health while worrying about every other member in their family.

But their selfless nature may come at a cost.

There is now sufficient evidence that women have a higher incidence of heart disease that what was previously thought.

Coronary artery disease and heart attacks are no longer ‘man diseases’. In fact, heart disease kills twice as many women every year compared to breast cancer. However, only 54% of women really know this.

Remember, the risk factors that lead to heart disease in women are the same as they are in men. More and more women smoke as well these days, adding to the increased risk.

To some extent, estrogen that is present during the younger years in women has some protective effects on the heart. This protection no longer exists after menopause.

Does this mean younger women cannot get heart disease? Not at all.

In one study, 30 women under the age of 55 years who had recently suffered a heart attack were questioned about their symptoms.

Majority of them thought they were too young to develop a heart attack, and hence did not seek immediate attention. Some were not able to identify and attribute their symptoms to a heart attack. In fact, many believed they were suffering from other problem and did not think it was their heart.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 64% of women who have a heart attack do not experience any symptoms. This makes identification even more difficult.

So what does all of this mean?

Based on what I have discussed earlier, it is almost always recommended that women also be tested for heart disease, especially if they have risk factors.

All you need to do is spend half a day getting the relevant tests. If all is normal, then you have nothing to worry!

Fact 4 – Men With Erectile Dysfunction Are At A Higher Risk Of Heart Attacks

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem. However, it is very rarely discussed in public or by patients with their doctors.

dr vivek baligaDid you know that if men suffer from erectile problems then they have a higher chance of developing heart disease?

Previously, it was believed that atherosclerosis (deposition of fat on the inner surface of arteries) was the reason why men developed heart disease and erectile dysfunction. The reduced supply of blood to both these structures was significantly reduced.

However, the understanding has changed now.

It is now believed that ED arises due to problems with the cells that line the inner surface of blood vessels called endothelial cells. These cells are also present on the inner surface of blood vessels that supply the heart.

Having ED does not however mean that you are definitely going to get heart disease.

If you suffer from ED, you may want to get yourself checked out for heart disease by undergoing some simple tests.

Closing Remarks

Heart attacks can be devastating. These facts about heart attacks should trigger your brain to seek medical attention straight away!

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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