Fighting one of our nation’s biggest health threats

Every 20 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a heart attack. Heart attacks, the most common sign of heart disease, strike 1.1 million people annually. More than 40 percent of them will die. Human costs of heart disease are compounded by financial costs of $260 billion annually, including health care services, medications and lost productivity.

Executives are particularly susceptible. Stress, inactivity, lack of proper nutrition, avoidance of doctor visits and being “just too busy” to adopt healthy lifestyles make heart disease a serious problem among management and staff.

Smart Business recently spoke with David Perkowski, M.D., cardiac surgeon at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, and Steven Schiff, M.D., cardiologist and medical director of invasive cardiovascular services at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, to learn more.

How can we prevent heart disease?

Studies show that lowering cholesterol and treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of dying of heart disease, having a non-fatal heart attack and needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty. Preventive measures include maintaining a healthy weight and eating foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fats. Reducing stress, controlling blood pressure and exercising regularly are important, plus getting regular checkups and screenings and following your doctor’s advice. Prevention should start early in life. With one in three 6- to 17-year-olds overweight in California, the number of kids with risk factors for heart disease — high body-mass index, glucose intolerance, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol — translates into a higher risk of chronic disease as an adult.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

For many women, symptoms can be so subtle they may not suspect they’re in trouble. These may include nausea or dizziness; uncomfortable pressure, tightness, squeezing, fullness or heaviness in the chest that does not go away quickly; cold sweats or pounding heart; pain that radiates up to the shoulders and neck or down the arms or back; difficulty breathing and/or shortness of breath. On the other hand, men say they feel crushing chest pain, like an elephant sitting on their chest.

How are women affected?

More women than men die from heart disease. And one in five women have cardiovascular disease, killing more women than all forms of cancer, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, diabetes, accidents and AIDS combined.