A Healthy Heart

Know the signs of a heart attack — and how to protect yourself.

Every 43 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood—which sends oxygen to the heart—is reduced or stopped completely. The lack of oxygen can cause heart tissue to die. This often occurs as a result of atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of arteries, which carry blood to the heart and the body. Plaque, which is composed of fat, cholesterol and other substances, causes the cardiac arteries to narrow and harden, restricting blood flow to your body.

Would you know if you’re having a heart attack? Many of us think of it as a sudden, dramatic event, but symptoms can actually begin gradually. Since immediate treatment is most effective, it’s important to call 911 if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest discomfort: It may feel like pressure or fullness. The discomfort may last for a while—or it may come and go.
  • Pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
  • A cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

Keep in mind, it’s possible to experience only a few of these symptoms. Also, symptoms can vary from person to person and may be subtle for women. While they can have chest pain, they may experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain. They may also notice dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting or severe fatigue.

The best prevention

The first step in preventing a heart attack is to find out if you have heart disease. See your physician, then focus on lowering your risk in the following ways:

  • Be active. Walking just 30 minutes per day can benefit your he art, according to the AHA. It can help to control high blood pressure, increase “good” cholesterol levels and lower “bad” cholesterol levels. Other heart-healthy activities include dancing, cycling, swimming and skiing. Check with your physician before beginning an exercise routine.
  • Quit smoking. After just one year, you’ll reduce your risk by 50 percent. RWJBarnabas Health’s Institute for Prevention and Recovery’s Nicotine and Tobacco Recovery Program offers individual and group support and free nicotine replacement therapy, such as the patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler and nasal spray. For more information, call 833.795.QUIT or visit www.rwjbh.org/nicotinerecovery.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. This includes fruits and vegetables (try to eat one or both at every meal and snack); whole grains, such as brown rice and plain oatmeal; fat-free or low-fat dairy products like milk and cheese; protein, such as fish and lean cuts of meat; and healthy oils like canola and olive, as well as nuts and seeds. Also, shop for foods that are low in sodium and have limited amounts of unhealthy fats.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure and can lead to high triglycerides and an irregular heartbeat. The AHA recommends that men consume no more than two drinks per day and women consume no more than one drink per day.
  • Strive for a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese raises your risk of heart disease. The ideal body mass index—an indicator of body fat and health risks—is between 18.5 and 24.9. To determine yours, visit www.rwjbh.org/bmi.

Are you at risk?

Certain factors predispose people to a heart attack: being older; having a family history of heart disease; and being African American, Mexican American or American Indian. Other risk factors include smoking; having high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or high blood sugar; being sedentary; eating an unhealthy diet; being overweight (especially in the abdomen); and having diabetes. High levels of stress and drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk.

Noninvasive cardiac testing

A cardiologist explains how patients are befitting from a new imaging technology

At Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus (MMCSC), physicians are using a sophisticated type of imaging—along with new, cutting-edge technology—to diagnose patients with chest pain. Rajesh Mohan, MD, MBA, FACC, FSCAI, an interventional cardiologist and Chief Medical Officer at MMCSC, explains how patients will benefit.

What is Fractional Flow Reserve CT (FFR-CT)?

​​​​​​It’s a noninvasive way to evaluate patients with chest discomfort and symptoms that may be suggestive of heart disease. A coronary CT scan is performed, which shows blockages in heart arteries. If there are blockages, the CT images are then analyzed by a supercomputer using artificial intelligence software called HeartFlow® Analysis. A personalized, three-dimensional model of the patient’s heart arteries is created, which provides information about the significance of any blockage and the blood flow through these arteries to the heart. Cardiologists then use this information to develop a treatment plan.

What are the advantages of FFR-CT?

The test allows physicians to determine noninvasively and with greater confidence and accuracy whether a patient has any significant blockage in the heart’s arteries. With this information, patients may avoid unnecessary testing, including invasive procedures like cardiac catheterization, and unnecessary admission to the hospital.

Is this test widely available?

No. MMCSC is the first in the area and only the fourth in New Jersey to offer this advanced technology.

Learn more about heart care at Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus.