Recognizing the Signs of Heart Disease

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An autopsy is scheduled for Friday morning to confirm the cause of James Gandolfini's death. The sudden loss of the actor at just 51-year-sold has left many wondering, if it was a heart attack that killed him, could something have been done to prevent it? Dr. Kosta Arger, a cardiologist at Northern Nevada Medical Center says there are almost always warning signs before a big heart attack, but most people don't pay attention to them. "I've had patients come in with jaw pain thinking there was something wrong with their teeth," he says. "They were having a heart attack." Dr. Arger says any kind of discomfort between the neck and the belly button should be considered a possible warning sign. That includes numbness in either arm, a stabbing pain between the shoulder blades and even the sensation of heartburn.

A heart attack starts when blood that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is restricted or stopped. That usually happens when coronary arteries become thicker and harder from a buildup of fat, and cholesterol called plaque. If the plaque breaks open and a blood clot forms it blocks the flow of blood causing a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association the average age for a first heart attack is 64 for men, and 72 years for women. Dr. Arger says it could happen any time. "Just because you're young or in your 30's or 40's does not mean you're immune from having a heart problem." says Arger. "When it comes to young people, family history is very significant." He says smoking, drug use, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol also increase your chances of heart disease. Meanwhile, he says simply watching your weight and incorporating aerobic exercise into your daily routine can help keep your heart healthy.

For more information from the American Heart Association about warning signs and understanding your risk, check out the links below.