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Heart Disease Series: Warning Signs, Risk Factors and Prevention Methods

Heart Disease kills thousands of Americans each year. In this segment of KSMU's series on heart disease, Michele Skalicky talks with medical professionals about its warning signs, risk factors and what you can do to try to avoid heart disease.

Heart disease is the #1 killer in America and is a major cause of disability. It claims nearly 700,000 lives in the U.S. each year. Today thru Friday at 7:30 each morning we'll look focus on heart disease—its warning signs and symptoms, prevention methods, how it affects women, life after a heart attack and the latest treatment options.

Heart Disease encompasses several conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels in the heart including Coronary artery disease—the leading cause of heart attacks; Heart Failure and Heart arrhythmias.

You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and improve your odds of surviving a heart attack with a little bit of information.

Dr. Lakshmi Parvathaneni is a cardiologist at St. John's Regional Health System. She says things that put a person at risk for developing heart disease include smoking—especially for young women—high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and a family history. Age is also a risk factor.

According to Dr. Parvathaneni, heart attacks can be avoided, but prevention needs to start early.

Young people, she says, need to be educated about the ill-effects of smoking. And they need to be taught the importance of not only exercise, but also eating a healthy diet.

Debbie Dorshorst, director of cardiopulmonary rehab at St. John's, says it's important that you know your numbers.

Medication may be necessary to prevent heart disease. Dr. David Cochran, a cardiologist and medical director of St. John's cardiac catheterization lab, says statins or cholesterol lowering medicines are used to prevent heart attacks.

And Dr. Cochran says, if people lose weight, exercise and control their diabetes, they not lower their risk of coronary disease but they receive other benefits as well.

Warning signs of heart disease are important to know, too, since the earlier a person gets help, the greater their chance is of survival.

Other warning signs might include pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms, lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or jaw pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 1 in 4 Americans know the warning signs of a heart attack. Most are also unaware that the first thing you should do if you experience any of them is to call 9-1-1.

Dr. Cochran says it's important not to drive yourself to the hospital—taking a ride in an ambulance could save your life.

Tomorrow morning at 7:30 as our series on heart disease continues, we look at how women are affected by heart problems.

This program is available on the web at ksmu.org.

For KSMU, I'm Michele Skalicky.