February is American Heart Month, a time when we tend to pay extra close attention to our cardiovascular health. With 11 Chest Pain Centers, accredited by the American College of Cardiology, HCA Houston Healthcare provides the Greater Houston area with comprehensive, patient-centered heart care when and where our patients need us most.

In support of raising awareness about heart disease this month, Dr. Amir Gahremanpour, an interventional cardiologist at HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland, answers a few questions about heart health and shares ways we can all take better care of our hearts.

Dr. Amir Gahremanpour, an interventional cardiologist at HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland.

What are the warning signs of a heart attack? Do women experience different symptoms?

You should be able to recognize the signs of a heart attack, whether it is happening to you or someone near you. The earlier a heart emergency is identified and treated, the better the outcome.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain that is in the middle of the chest, and is a deep aching, dull pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, or arms (mostly left). The pain may come and go in waves and gets worse with physical exertion. Some other common heart attack symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath with no cause
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Abdominal pain (epigastric pain)

Women often experience a heart attack with only mild chest pain or tightness. They are more likely to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain, including shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, or extreme fatigue.

What should you do if you are showing signs of a heart attack?

If you believe that you or someone else is experiencing a heart attack, don’t hesitate and call 911 immediately. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.

High cholesterol is linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. There are numerous epidemiological studies that show the association of an elevated cholesterol level with heart attack.

If your cholesterol is too high, it builds up on the walls of your arteries and can cause atherosclerosis. Over time, the arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked, which can cause chest pain or a heart attack if the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely blocked.

What are other risk factors for heart disease?

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease. But by controlling as many risk factors as possible through lifestyle changes, medication, or both, you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Elevated triglyceride levels
  • Family history of atherosclerotic cardiac disease at age 50 or younger
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking—even secondhand smoke can increase your risk

What can I do to lower my risk of heart disease?

Life’s Simple 7 is defined by the American Heart Association as the seven risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal cardiovascular health.

  1. Know and manage your blood pressure
  2. Control your blood cholesterol
  3. Reduce your blood sugar
  4. Stay active: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week
  5. Maintain a healthy diet
    • Enjoy fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish
    • Minimize red meat, liquid oil, and sugar
    • Limit the amount of sodium you eat each day
    • Drink alcoholic beverages only in moderation, if at all
  6. Maintain a healthy weight
  7. Stop smoking

Another thing people can do to help prevent heart disease is to treat sleep apnea. This disorder is associated with high blood pressure, heart failure, coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, and stroke. Men who have a neck circumference greater than 17 inches and women greater than 16 inches have an increased risk for developing sleep apnea.

What is a heart risk assessment and should I take one?

An online heart risk assessment is a quick and effective tool to help you understand your risk factors for heart disease. Upon completion of a short questionnaire, you get personalized clinical information condensed into a concise, easy-to-understand report.

Online assessments aren’t a replacement for seeing a physician on a regular basis, they simply provide additional information about your overall well-being.

Adults who are 40 to 75 years of age should see their primary care physician (PCP) to calculate their ten-year atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk score, and adults who are 20 to 39 years of age should be measured for risk factors every four to six years by their PCP.

Take our heart risk assessment today to check your heart health for a healthier tomorrow.

For more information, visit: HCAhoustonhealthcare.com