Things you should know about heart attacks

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A German study concluded that long-term exposure to heavy traffic may double your risk of a heart attack.A German study concluded that long-term exposure to heavy traffic may double your risk of a heart attack.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in America. It is often called the “silent killer,” because symptoms don’t often present until an actual emergency incident occurs.

Myocardial infarction (MI) or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) is commonly known as a heart attack. It results from the partial interruption of blood supply to part of the heart muscle, causing heart cells to be damaged or die.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the most common condition that precipitates a heart attack. A waxy substance, called plaque, builds up inside coronary arteries, causing a condition known as atherosclerosis. The buildup occurs over many years, without any prevalent symptoms. An area of plaque can rupture and cause a blood clot to form on the plaque’s surface. If the clot becomes large enough, it can constrict or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. If the blockage isn’t treated quickly, healthy heart tissue is replace by scar tissue and the heart ceases to function properly.

A healthy diet, exercise and regular check-ups are all good ways to combat heart disease, but here are a few things that may put you at risk you were unaware of.

Heart attack symptoms

**Chest pain or discomfort. This includes uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center or left side of the chest that can be mild or strong. This discomfort or pain often lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.

**Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach.

**Shortness of breath, which may occur with or before chest discomfort.

**Nausea, vomiting, light headedness or sudden dizziness. Breaking out into a cold sweat.

If you are diagnosed with flu or another respiratory tract infection, your odds of having a heart attack are five times higher during the three days after diagnosis than it would be otherwise. The reason: Infections can bring on an inflammatory response, which can trigger a heart attack or stroke. A flu vaccine may help protect against infection-induced heart stress, especially if you’re already at risk.

Bad news for truckers. Exposure to heavy traffic — whether you’re traveling by truck, bike, or public transit — may double your risk of a heart attack, according to a German study. Another earlier study found that death from cardiopulmonary causes was nearly twice as high among people living close to a major road.

One 2012 study linked the popular antibiotic azithromycin (commonly dispensed in packages called Z-Paks) to a higher risk of heart attack death, particularly in people with heart disease. The evidence was not strong enough to change current prescribing practices, although it is a good idea to talk with your doctor about alternative antibiotics if you know you have heart disease.

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A 2012 study of 23,000 people in the journal Heart found that those taking calcium supplements had a higher heart attack risk than those who didn’t, although dietary intake didn’t seem to be a problem. As with any supplement, it’s always better to try and get the nutrient from your diet directly. Eating oily fish twice a week and getting outdoors are excellent ways to increase your calcium and vitamin D levels. As always, it’s better to consult your doctor about taking calcium or any other supplement.

Studies have shown that people with gum disease can have up to 25 percent greater risk of heart disease than people with good dental health. The connection is thought to be mouth bacteria, which can trigger chronic inflammation in the blood vessels. It stands to reason if you have disease in the vessels in one area of the body, there is disease in other vessels as well.

Although most people with diabetes fear complications like amputation or vision loss, one of the greatest risks is actually heart disease. People with diabetes are about two to four times as likely to die of heart disease than their same-age peers without diabetes.

Knowing the risks and being proactive in your lifestyle are the best ways to avoid heart disease. If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 and get immediate help. The quicker the response and treatment, the less damage caused and more likely you are to survive and recover fully.