A list of Heart Education frequently asked questions to reference for Oklahomans.

Heart Education FAQs

1. What is coronary artery disease?

Blood is supplied to your heart by blood vessels on the surface of the heart called coronary arteries. Healthy coronary arteries are like hollow tubes through which blood flows. Coronary artery disease is when fats and other substances in your blood stream build up in the vessels and narrow the arteries. Your heart is a muscle that needs a constant supply of oxygen rich blood in order to work. When that flow is blocked or restricted it can cause heart muscle damage.

2. What factors put me at risk for a heart attack (myocardial infarction)?

Your health care provider will help you determine your personal risk factors. They may include:

  • High Blood Lipids (Cholesterol, Triglycerides): Your total cholesterol should be less than 200. However, it is important that you know your "good" cholesterol (HDL) and your "bad" cholesterol (LDL) as well as your triglycerides. Your "good" (HDL) cholesterol should be more than 40 and your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol should be kept less than 100. Triglycerides need to be under 150.

  • High Blood Pressure (hypertension): Is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Some people can control this with making dietary changes. Others will require medications as well as dietary changes.

  • Excess Body Fat: Your goal should be to reach a healthy weight and maintain that weight. Too much body weight puts an excess workload on the heart. A healthy weight decreases the risk for high blood pressure, high blood lipids and decreases the workload on your heart. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

  • Diabetes: People with diabetes are two to four more times likely to have heart disease or stroke. Diabetes can't be cured, but it can be controlled with good eating habits, weight control, exercise and medicine.

  • Smoking: Put quite simply, you MUST quit! The single most beneficial thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease and lead a healthier life is to quit smoking. Some other benefits are:

    • Chances of heart attack and death from heart disease are reduced by 50 percent after staying quit for 1 year.

    • Risk of stroke and heart attack is equal to that of a non-smoker after 5 years.

    • Reduces risk of lung cancer after 2-3 years

  • Inactivity: People who exercise regularly are less likely to develop heart disease and are more likely to survive a heart attack should one occur. If you are not exercising regularly, your exercise program should focus on 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 days per week. Speak with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

3. What are warning signs of a heart attack?

Another name for a heart attack is myocardial infarction or MI. This means that the heart muscle is deprived of blood because of a blockage, causing damage to the heart muscle. There may be no signs or symptoms of CAD before a heart attack happens or there may be symptoms. You may experience the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Chest tightness

  • Tightness or pain in your neck jaw or arms

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tiredness

  • Dizziness

  • Sweating

  • Nausea

4. How do warning signs of a heart attack differ for women?

Heart attack kills six times as many women as breast cancer and is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. Women may or may not have the classic symptoms of chest pain that men may have. Their symptoms could include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Unexplained fatigue

5. What do I do if I have warning signs of a heart attack?

Don't forget that since heart attack is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, it is very important to act right away if you have any warning signs (see above). Chest pain or pressure and other related symptoms can be similar to other things such as heartburn, indigestion or hiatal hernia, but assume it is heart related until your doctor proves otherwise. Half of heart attack patients die within an hour of when they first have symptoms. Those who get care right way have a better chance of surviving. Here are some guidelines:

  • Stop what you are doing and lie down.

  • If your pain stops when you rest and starts again when you begin an activity or experience emotional stress, call your doctor right away.

  • If your doctor did NOT order nitroglycerin for chest pain, and the pain does not get better with rest, call 911 or you local emergency service. Do not go to the hospital in a private vehicle.

  • If the doctor DID order nitroglycerin, take one and wait 5 minutes (make sure you are laying down). If pain is not better, take another nitroglycerin and wait 5 more minutes. If the pain is still there, take the third nitroglycerin. If the pain is there after the third nitroglycerin, call 911 or your local emergency service. Do not drive yourself to the hospital. If someone besides the ambulance takes you to the hospital they will not have the medicines and oxygen to help you.

Make sure you or your friends and family call 911 in an emergency situation.

6. What are some things I can do to stay heart healthy?

Be sure to talk to your doctor about how these tips apply to you:

  • To Lower Your Cholesterol: Eat a low fat diet. Eat the "right" fat and limit dietary cholesterol. Eat a variety of healthy foods and exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Limit your intake of beverages that contain alcohol

  • To Lower Your Blood Pressure: In addition to exercising on a regular basis to keep a healthy weight, it is important to eat less salt (sodium) containing items. Fruits, vegetables and dairy are a good way to add good blood pressure lowering minerals (potassium and calcium) to your diet.

  • To Reduce Excess Body Fat: Talk to your doctor first and set a realistic goal that is right for you. Make a commitment to yourself to reduce the calories you eat and increase the calories you burn. This is the formula for losing weight and gaining a healthier you!

  • To Control Your Diabetes: Don't forget that people with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to have heart disease or stroke. Diabetes can not be cured, but it can be controlled with proper nutrition, weight control, exercise and medication. Keep your routine doctor's appointments and attend a diabetes education program. This will teach you to know the carbohydrate content of the foods you eat and control the portion sizes in your diet.

  • To Stop Smoking!

7. What is Angina?

Angina refers to symptoms such as chest pain or discomfort caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. It is often the first sign of heart disease.

The heart is a muscle that gets blood flow from the coronary arteries. If your coronary arteries have a blockage or narrowing that reduces blood flow to the heart, you may experience angina.

People with angina usually feel discomfort (often pressure-like pain) in or around the chest, shoulders, back, neck, jaw or arms. It may feel like a squeezing pressing sensation. Angina is usually caused and made worse by exercise and eased by rest. The pain usually lasts 2-5 minutes. If you have this kind of chest pain, contact your health care provider. You can take medicine that will help your angina. If you suspect you are having a heart attack (see warning signs), call 911.

Not all chest discomfort is angina. Acid reflux, lung infections or inflammation can cause chest pain.

8. Does angina mean I'm having a heart attack?

Not necessarily. An episode of angina is not a heart attack. It does however, mean you have a greater chance of having a heart attack. Angina means part of the heart is not getting enough blood temporarily. A heart attack means blood flow is cut off to a portion of the heart permanently, usually by a blood clot. This can lead to serious heart damage.

9. How is angina treated?

Lifestyle changes and medications are the most common ways to treat stable angina. Risk factor modification such as lowering your blood pressure, losing excess weight, quitting smoking, exercising, lowering high blood cholesterol and managing stress will help make you more comfortable and may reduce angina symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe drugs to control your angina. Nitroglycerin is a common one used. It relieves pain by relaxing blood vessels and allowing more blood flow to the heart.

10. What are the symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?

You may not know you have CAD until you have symptoms from clogged arteries. Chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath can be the first signs of CAD. Some people don't know they have CAD until they have a heart attack.

If you have risk factors for CAD, you should speak with your health care provider about how to lower your risk.

11. What are the treatments for Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?

There are 3 main treatments for CAD - medicines, interventional procedures like angioplasty and stenting that open blocked arteries, and bypass surgery.

12. Is it safe to have sex after a heart attack?

Most heart attack survivors can return to their normal sexual activities after recovering from their heart attack, just as they are able to return to other kinds of physical activity and to work. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about when you should resume sexual activities.