Gandolfini's Death at 51 Offers Vital Lessons on Heart Disease

At the young age of 51, the star of “The Sopranos” James Gandolfini died Wednesday after going into cardiac arrest in his hotel room in Rome, hospital officials confirmed.

The shock of Gandolfini’s sudden death from an apparent heart attack is still reverberating worldwide among his legions of fans.

It is also causing many to re-examine their own health profile, in particular risk factors for heart disease.

Every year, more than 700,000 Americans suffer a heart attack. Most heart attack victims are middle-aged or older, with the average age for a first attack being 66 for men and 70 for women. Although less common, much younger men and women can suffer heart attacks.

The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of Americans every year survive a heart attack, and go back to a normal life after a recovery period.

But it’s important to know that you can carry heart disease risk factors at any age. And you can improve your odds of preventing heart disease through regular checkups, eating a proper diet, exercising regularly and proper weight management. Knowing your numbers is vital, including readings for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

“The survival rate of heart attacks is improving from advances in diagnosis, treatment, medication and a growing awareness of heart disease prevention,” said Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., medical director of the Chest Pain Center at Baptist Hospital and clinical cardiology at Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

In the case of the heavyset Gandolfini, a heart attack likely caused his cardiac arrest. Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. Cardiac arrest is what happens when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions.

Know the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Always remember: do not wait if you think you or someone close to you is having a heart attack. Call 911 if you are able or get someone to help you.

Despite medical advances, too many people are still dying because they don’t get help quickly enough.

Obviously, if you have risk factors, especially a diagnosed heart condition, or high blood pressure or diabetes, then you should be even more aware of the signs of a heart attack.

These signs include:

•  Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
•  Sweating.
•  Shortness of breath.
•  Nausea or vomiting.
•  Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
•  Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
•  A fast or irregular heartbeat.

In addition to those heart attack symptoms, women could also experience the following conditions and should also seek immediate medical attention:

•  Pain in the arm (especially left arm), back, neck, abdomen or shoulder blades.
•  Jaw pain.
•  Nausea and vomiting.
•  Overwhelming and unusual fatigue, sometimes with shortness of breath.
•  Light headedness or sweating

After you call 911, the operator may instruct you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin, if it’s at all possible. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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