Category Archives: Heart Attack

Q&A: Why is salt bad for your heart?

with Dr. Bussie Evans, Cardiologistdrevans

Why is salt bad for your heart?

Dr. Evans: Our bodies need a little salt for optimal health, however the typical American diet can contain two or three times the amount needed.  Too much salt causes the body to retain water.  This increase in fluid in the body increases blood pressure which puts a strain on blood vessels, the heart and kidneys.  As a result, people with high blood pressure have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Does everyone need to monitor their salt intake?

Dr. Evans: It’s safe to say that everyone eating an American diet could benefit from paying attention to and reducing their salt intake. Most people have no idea how much salt they consume.  People assume that if they don’t use their salt shaker much, they aren’t eating much salt.  But salt / sodium is already present in many of the foods we eat.  Especially processed foods. It is important to pay attention to your salt intake if you have high blood pressure, and if you have heart failure, too much sodium and the accompanying fluid retention can be very dangerous.

How much salt is too much?salt_shaker

Dr. Evans: The Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, however for most adults, especially seniors, no more than 1,500 milligrams is a better guideline.  Our blood pressure tends to increase as we age, so lowering salt intake can help to keep it in check. To give you an idea, one teaspoon of salt is 2,300 mg of sodium.  In packaged foods, the amount of sodium is on the nutrition label, but pay close attention to the serving size.  Let’s say that a can of soup has 800 mgs of sodium per serving, but a serving is only 1/2 a cup. To be realistic, you are likely to eat one whole cup of soup if not more and then you’ve already exceeded your recommended daily sodium intake.  It’s just that easy to take in too much salt if you’re not paying attention.

How can I reduce salt if it’s already in the food I eat?

Dr. Evans: Ideally, eating more fresh foods that are prepared at home rather than packaged foods can make a big difference not just in salt consumption but in your overall health.  And when cooking at home, use more herbs and spices for flavor and less salt.  For recipes and meal plans, there are a lot of free resources you can find online by looking up the DASH Diet. When buying packaged foods, read the labels and look for lower sodium alternatives. It really doesn’t take long for your tastes to adjust to less salt and you’ll soon find that some foods taste way too salty.  Certain foods are known for containing a lot of salt, and unfortunately, they are American favorites:  pizza, sandwiches, soup, breads and baked goods, cold cuts, poultry, cheese, and of course condiments and sauces.  People tend to ignore the nutritional labels on condiments, but soy sauce or barbeque sauce, for example, can really blow up your daily sodium intake.  There are ways to make some of these salty favorites less salty and more healthy like getting the thin crust pizza with more vegetables, half the cheese and an uncured meat instead of pepperoni.  However at the very least, limit your portions of salty foods.

If I limit my salt intake will my blood pressure be normal?

Cutting back on salt is one of the easiest things you can do to help your blood pressure, but it is not a cure all.  There can be other causes of high blood pressure such as family history, poor diet, lack of exercise, being overweight, smoking, and excess alcohol consumption.  Limiting salt intake should be part of an overall heart healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a heart healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.  High blood pressure, much like high cholesterol, is a silent risk factor of heart disease, so having your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly can help you and your doctor find lifestyle modifications, or medications if needed, to reduce your risks for cardiovascular disease.

 

What is a Silent Heart Attack?

A study of approximately 9,500 middle-age adults found that nearly half of the heart attacks that occurred during the study period were “silent”. TheDr Haghighat patients were not aware they had a heart attack and did not seek medical attention however, their electrocardiogram (ECG) screening during a regular follow-up appointment showed that a heart attack had occurred.

The study, Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC), analyzed the causes and outcomes of atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries. Over an average of nine years after the start of the study, 317 participants had silent heart attacks while 386 had heart attacks with clinical symptoms.

Amir Haghighat, M.D., interventional cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Institute in Panama City, clarifies that “Silent does not necessarily mean a total lack of symptoms. More likely, it’s that the symptoms were subtle or not recognized as a heart problem.”   Frequently, television and movies depict a heart attack as a dramatic event with crushing chest pain. “Chest pain is a common symptom, however everyone experiences heart symptoms differently.” says Dr. Haghighat. “For some, it may be shortness of breath, pain in their left arm, in their neck or jaw, or even in the shoulder blades, and it may not be as dramatic as you think.”

“The outcome of a silent heart attack is as bad as a heart attack that is recognized while it is happening,” said Elsayed Z. Soliman, M.D., MSc., M.S., study senior author and director of the epidemiological cardiology research center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “And because patients don’t know they have had a silent heart attack, they may not receive the treatment they need to prevent another one.”

Dr. Haghighat stresses that these study results are further proof that patients should see their primary care providers regularly and discuss any unusual symptoms they may be experiencing. “We all know when we’re feeling something different in our bodies and it’s important to discuss it with a healthcare provider,” says Dr. Haghighat. “Take note of when your symptoms occur, do they happen with exertion or at rest? Don’t ignore symptoms just because they come and go. Your primary doctor may be able to identify the issue with basic screenings and prescribe preventative measures. Or in the case of a “silent” heart attack, coordinate treatment with a cardiologist that can lower your risk of having additional heart attacks.”

After following participants in the ARIC study for 20 years, researchers found that having a silent heart attack increased the chances of dying from heart disease by three times. As a result, silent heart attacks should be treated just as aggressively, once discovered, as a heart attack with recognizable symptoms. “For both kinds of heart attacks,” says Dr. Haghighat, “the risk factors and the treatment are the same. Even though a patient may not have experienced a scary heart event in an ER, they still need to be proactive and make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk such as quitting smoking, losing excess weight, eating healthy and getting regular exercise.”