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GA Heart Expert Explains Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, Prevention

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Tuesday, February 7, 2023   

February is American Heart Month, and a Georgia medical expert said knowing the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest can help save a life.

Every year, more than 800,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack, and the majority are first-time heart attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Jaime Burkle, medical director of the Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids at the Georgia Heart Institute, said cardiac arrest is when a person's heart stops pumping blood around their body, and they stop breathing. He added circulation needs to be restored immediately with CPR.

He noted one of the causes of cardiac arrest could be a heart attack, which is due to blockage in the circulation in the coronary arteries.

"The coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with blood," Burkle explained. "And when you have a buildup of cholesterol plaque inside the artery, and then a blood clot, this will interrupt the circulation of blood inside the heart muscle and cause a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction."

Burkle pointed out if cardiac arrest results from a heart attack, which is about 25% of the cases, then it is preventable. He added prevention starts with tackling the risk factors which can cause heart attacks, such as elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and obesity.

Dr. Ravi Johar, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, said a cardiac arrest can happen to a teenager playing baseball, who's hit by a ball at the exact moment in the heartbeat cycle to disrupt it. He added family medical history and genetics can help determine if someone is prone to experience cardiac arrest or a heart attack. Screening and tests are encouraged for those with high-risk family history.

"Things like Marfan syndrome increases the risk of aneurysms and abnormal blood flow to the heart, and things of that sort," Johar noted. "There can be some genetic consequences. There can also be genetic history, if your parents had problems with their hearts, there's a higher likelihood that you may."

Johar stressed it is important to be aware of some of the most common heart-attack signs including tightness, pressure, or an aching sensation in the chest which can spread through the upper body, plus shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness.


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