Take control of your heart health now

Take control of your heart health now

One of the biggest misconceptions that I have noted over the years as an interventional cardiologist is that most patients think a heart attack “just happens” – that it appeared out of nowhere.

Patients often are surprised to learn that heart disease develops over time.

Plaque, or fatty deposits, begin to build up in the arteries during the teen years, and this is the beginning stage of coronary artery disease. With coronary artery disease, plaque lines the arteries and causes them to narrow and harden.

By the time adults reach their 40s or 50s, some people begin to experience cardiac health issues and symptoms from the build-up.

Narrowing of the arteries triggers symptoms such as angina (chest pain that goes away in about 10 minutes) or shortness of breath.

The goal is to be aware of your body and pay attention when it sends you signals.

Are you short of breath when you walk up a hill? Do you have to stop and rest when you exercise?

These episodes just might be telling you to seek care – and sooner rather than later. It is not unusual for a patient to tell me that he or she experienced symptoms a couple of weeks prior to a cardiac event.

A critical component that increases survival rates and minimizes damage to the heart is to take symptoms seriously if you think you might be having a heart attack.

Do not treat yourself at home, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Because of the emergence of COVID-19, caused by the SARS-COV-2 virus, patients are not being as proactive in seeking medical care as they need to be. Unfortunately, patients have died from the decision to stay home because they fear being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Know that patients are segregated at health clinics, doctor’ offices and hospitals, so it is safe to seek preventative and acute care.

During a heart attack, time is of the essence. Heart muscle damage often begins within 10 minutes after the onset of a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction (MI). Most of the damage is irreversible after about 6 hours of continuous symptoms. It is best to seek care as quickly as possible, preferably within the first hour of onset.

Many patients are treated with a stent, which opens the closed artery or vein so that blood flow can return to normal. The sooner you are seen and the treated, the better chance you have of preserving heart muscle and living life fully.

Pay attention to your body

Just like no two people are alike, no two heart attacks are alike. Although symptoms vary, patients often report the following symptoms with a heart attack:

  • Chest pain. Some patients, especially male patients, report they feel as if an elephant is sitting on their chest.
  • Left arm pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Cold sweats
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Women can be atypical in their symptoms. Some women feel very fatigued or as if they have ingestion.

A silent heart attack happens when symptoms are unrecognized, and in some cases, there are no noticeable symptoms. However, there is damage to the heart.
Control what you can

How we treat our bodies impacts the development of plaque or atherosclerosis. It is important to recognize how your lifestyle, age and genetics contributes to your heart health.

  • Know and understand your cholesterol numbers.
  • Do not smoke or vape.
  • Control your blood pressure, especially if it is high (over 130/80).
  • Discuss preventative care with your doctor, including if it is appropriate to undergo testing to better understand your cardiac system and if medication is right for you. At Coastal Cardiovascular Care, we are amenable to meeting with young adults to go over their health and genetic history and offer counseling for lifestyle changes to reduce their risk.
  • If you have chest discomfort while exercising, call your doctor or cardiologist and let them know. In our practice, we see patients generally within a short time frame and assess their symptoms.

Telemedicine appointments are easily available. Dr. Richard Jacoby is a general and interventional board-certified cardiologist with Coastal Cardiovascular Care, 700 Garden View Court, Suite 204, Encinitas, CA 92024. For more information call 760-452-6334 or go to