Preventing Heart Disease | UnityPoint Health - Dubuque
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Preventing Heart Attacks

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs, in most cases, when a vessel supplying the heart muscle with blood and oxygen becomes completely blocked. The vessel has become narrowed by a slow buildup of fatty deposits, made mostly of cholesterol. When a clot occurs in this narrowed vessel, it completely blocks the supply of blood to the heart muscle. That part of the muscle will begin to die if the individual does not immediately seek medical attention.

Understand your risks 

Finley offers opportunities to learn more about your heart health.  Learn more about  Heart Scan.

Did you know?

Heart attacks have beginnings. These "beginnings" occur in over 50 percent of patients. More importantly, if recognized in time, these "beginnings" can be treated before the heart is damaged. 85 percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack.

There are warning signs and risk factors associated with heart attacks in men and women.

Call 911 in the event you or someone you are with is experiencing symptoms.

Warning signs of a heart attack

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Each year, approximately 1.2 million Americans suffer a heart attack, and nearly one-third of these individuals die, many before they reach the hospital. People often dismiss heart attack warning signs, such as chest pain, and think they merely have heartburn or a pulled muscle. The unfortunate conclusion is that many people wait too long before getting help. We want you to recognize the early symptoms of a heart attack.
Frequent signs of a heart attack are the following:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest. The discomfort lasts for more than a few minutes or it may go away and come back. The discomfort may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. 
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This may include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath may occur with or before chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Anxiety.

These symptoms may come and go until finally becoming constant and severe. Treatments are most effective when they occur in the early stages of chest pain.

Early heart attack care (EHAC)

EHAC is an acronym for Early Heart Attack Care and teaches about the 'soft symptoms' of a heart attack; it alerts the public that heart attacks have beginnings and that treating chest pressure early, before it becomes the severe, crushing chest pain of a heart attack, is what is important. Finley supports the educational mission of EHAC.

Early heart attack symptoms

Not every heart attack displays the same symptoms. In fact, many people ignore the early signs of a heart attack. Unfortunately, when these early signs are ignored, we miss a "window of opportunity" to prevent the attack before any heart damage can occur. The following signs and symptoms are ones to be aware of in yourself or in your family members: 

  • Shortness of breath without exertion
  • Heartburn or burning in the chest
  • Discomfort or pain
  • Anxiety or a feeling of impending doom

Heart attacks symptoms in women can be different than men

Like in men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is pain or discomfort in the chest. However, women can also have a heart attack without having any chest pain. Some of the other symptoms women might experience include:

  • Feeling out of breath
  • Pain that runs along the neck, jaw, or upper back
  • Nausea, vomiting or indigestion
  • Unexplained sweating or dizziness
  • Sudden or overwhelming fatigue

Understand your risk for a heart attack

The following risk factors have been linked to a higher incidence of heart attack and should be addressed and eliminated. If you, or someone you care about, struggles with any of these risks, talk to your doctor about ways to remove these behaviors before they have a chance to impact your health.

  • Increasing age: About 82 percent of people who die of heart disease are 65 or older.
  • Gender: Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women and typically have attacks earlier in life.
  • Heredity: Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.
  • Smoking: Smokers' risk of developing heart disease is two to four times that of nonsmokers.
  • High Blood Cholesterol: As blood cholesterol rises, so does the risk of heart disease.
  • High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure increases the heart's workload.
  • Physical Inactivity: An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Obesity and Overweight: People who have excess body fat - especially around the waist - are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease.
  • Stress: Some scientists have noted a relationship between heart disease risk and stress.

Source: American Heart Association

Preventing Heart Disease


Finley can help assess your risk for heart problems and give you the tools you need to improve your heart health.

  •  A Heart Scan identifies calcified plaque in your coronary arteries and assesses your heart's health. 
  • Keep close tabs on your blood fats (LDL and triglycerides) and sugars. Both can be detected with simple blood tests taken by your primary care doctor.

Five lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure:

  • Increase exercise. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking or swimming, for just 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week significantly improves your heart health.
  • Eat a healthier diet. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, salt and cholesterol. Eat more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
  • Quit smoking. People who smoke are 2 to 4 times more likely to get heart disease than non-smokers. 
  • Cut down on alcohol. Drink no more than two drinks a day for men, one for women.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Stay cool - relax! Stress is hard on your heart, so take a deep breath and avoid stressors when possible.