Healthy Tahoe: Don’t miss a beat with these heart facts

Holly Burnam, NP

Heart attack, heart failure and heart disease sometimes go hand-in-hand, but they are very different conditions. It can feel daunting to learn the variations between the three.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood becomes blocked from a section of the heart. This is often the result of plaque buildup inside your coronary arteries.

●Symptoms: Pain or a feeling of squeezing or fullness in the center or left side of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, or upper part of the stomach. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, cold sweat, unusual tiredness (especially for women), nausea, vomiting, light-headedness, or sudden dizziness.

●Risk Factors: Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, an unhealthy diet, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle. Women older than 55 and men older than 45 are more vulnerable.

●Manage It Well: Act fast at the first sign of heart attack symptoms by calling 911. Doing so can save your life and limit damage to your heart. Do not ignore symptoms.

Heart Failure

With heart failure, your heart doesn’t pump blood as it should. Therefore, the body’s need for blood and oxygen is not being met.

●Symptoms: Shortness of breath, especially when lying down; feeling tired and run-down; coughing or wheezing; swelling in feet, ankles, and legs; or weight gain from fluid buildup.

●Risk Factors: A past heart attack that did damage to the heart muscle could put you at risk for heart failure. High blood pressure, heart valve disease, being overweight, diabetes, thyroid problems, and drug or alcohol abuse also puts you at risk.

●Manage It Well: Weigh yourself daily to check for weight gain caused by increased fluid. Track your daily fluid intake. Take medicines as prescribed, and monitor your blood pressure daily. Limit alcohol and caffeine, eat less salt, be physically active, get adequate rest, and quit smoking, if you smoke.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a lifelong disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack. Your blood vessels can worsen unless you make healthy lifestyle changes.

●Symptoms: Angina, which men often experience as pressure or squeezing in the chest. Women also have angina symptoms but tend to describe a sharp, burning pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back.

●Risk Factors: High cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, age, and a family history of heart disease. If you have metabolic syndrome (when several of these risk factors occur together), you are twice as likely to develop heart disease.

●Manage It Well: Eat a diet that is low in fat and salt. Fill up on fruits and veggies, whole grains, fish, fiber, and lean poultry.

Holly Burnam is a Nurse Practitioner at Barton Cardiology, who along with Dr. David Young, offers comprehensive cardiac care in South Lake Tahoe. Learn more at or by calling 530-543-5497.

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