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Understand your risk of heart attack

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women, responsible for one in every four deaths or an estimated 600,000 Americans every year.* One form of heart disease, a heart attack, can happen suddenly and with no advance warning. Learning more about heart attacks now can help protect you in the future.

What is a heart attack?

Each year, about 1.1 million Americans suffer a heart attack, also known as a coronary attack or myocardial infarction. A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery stops blood flow to a portion of the heart. Blockages are generally caused by atherosclerosis, a thickening and hardening of the artery. First, fat, cholesterol and other substances build up over time thickening the artery wall and forming plaques. Eventually some of the plaque may rupture with a blood clot forming around it. This clot can block a coronary artery, cutting blood flow to the heart. In rarer cases, the heart's blood supply can be cut off by a temporary contraction or spasm of a coronary artery. In either case, without adequate blood flow, the heart muscle doesn't get the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and quickly begins to die.

Know the warning signs

Many people delay getting help during a possible heart attack because they think their symptoms may turn out to be a false alarm – but every minute counts. If you or a loved one experiences any of the following symptoms, call 911 and seek immediate attention – even if you're not sure it's a heart attack.

  • Chest discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes; the discomfort may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain; range from mild to severe; and come and go
  • Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other symptoms, such as nausea, light-headedness or breaking out in a cold sweat

Angina, or chest pain, can also be a warning signal of heart disease. Symptoms are similar to a heart attack but last for a few minutes and then go away. These symptoms may occur with activities that make the heart work harder and then let up when you rest, such as with vigorous activity or exercise, exposure to cold weather or following a big meal. If you have these symptoms or other overall changes in your health, it is important to tell your doctor. This will provide an opportunity for you to be evaluated and treated before the problem worsens.

Take action

Talk to your health care provider about your risk of heart attack. For your convenience, print, clip and save the pocket guide below, then take it to your next appointment. A medical professional can also give you more information about various tools you can use to protect your heart, including smoking cessation programs, an exercise regimen, nutrition counseling, blood pressure screenings and cholesterol testing.

* Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,

For your next office visit

Questions to ask your doctor

  1. What is my risk for heart disease?
  1. What are my blood pressure, cholesterol (total, LDL, HDL and triglycerides), body mass index and blood glucose numbers, and what do they mean?
Blood Pressure Date  Blood Pressure 
Cholesterol Date  Total  LDL  HDL 
Blood Glucose Date  Blood Glucose Level 
Weight Date 
Weight  Body Mass Index (BMI) 
  1. What other screening tests for heart disease do I need?
  1. What can you do to help me quit smoking?
  1. How can I tell if I may be having a heart attack?

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

New cholesterol guidelines

For years, health care providers assessed healthy cholesterol based on a set of target numbers. But in November 2013, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology substantially revised cholesterol guidelines, determining that while research clearly shows that lowering LDL lowers the risk for heart attack and stroke, a patient’s overall risk is the most important factor in making treatment decisions.

“The targets for cholesterol level are soft goals, and lower is better. But the number as a target is not what’s important; lowering that number is what needs to be done. What we are trying to do is reduce the risk factor for coronary artery disease,” says Chico cardiologist Peter Wolk, MD.

The guidelines advise assessing factors such as age, gender, weight, race, whether a patient smokes, blood pressure and whether it’s being treated, whether a person has diabetes, as well as blood cholesterol levels in determining their risk. Other factors, including family history, may also need to be considered. Once the personalized assessment is complete, doctors can make a much more informed decision about treatment.

Speak with your doctor about your individualized risk assessment. And attend our Heart of a Champion luncheon on Feb. 13 at the Canyon Oaks Country Club to learn about these new guidelines and more. See details below.

Source: American Heart Association.

We make it easy to find a cardiologist in the area:

Healthy events for heart month

Heart of a Champion luncheon

Thursday, Feb. 13                                 
Canyon Oaks Country Club, 999 Yosemite Drive, Chico
Noon to 1:15 p.m., with registration and seating at 11:30 a.m.

Learn about these heart-health topics from cardiologist Peter Magnusson, MD, at this free luncheon.

UNDERSTAND > Progression of cardiac care
LEARN > How new medication guidelines impact you
ACT > Exercise training and benefits in heart failure patients

RSVP and email your questions to the physician prior to the event at Enloe Foundation staff will be available at the luncheon to accept donations to benefit Enloe Cardiac Care. (Cash, credit card or checks accepted. Please make checks payable to the Enloe Foundation.)

Heart of a Family open house

Tuesday, Feb. 25
Enloe Conference Center
1528 Esplanade, Chico
5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Join us anytime between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. for heart-healthy activities for the whole family.

  • Blood pressure screenings
  • Body fat analysis
  • Wii Fit Olympics
  • Kid-friendly, heart-healthy play stations
  • Heart-healthy cooking demonstrations with Executive Chef, Craig Thomas
  • Step tests
  • Exercise intensity assessment
  • and more!


1531 Esplanade Chico, California 95926 | P: 530.332.7300
This publication does not constitute professional medical advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. If you have medical questions, consult your medical professional. Images may be from one or more of these sources: ©Thinkstock, ©iStock, ©Fotolia, Mark Thau. ©2014 BlueSpire Strategic Marketing I

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