George Steinbrenner's Death Reminds Us of ABCs of Heart Attack Prevention

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New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who celebrated his 80th birthday on July 4th, died Tuesday morning after suffering a heart attack at his home in Tampa, Florida. Steinbrenner had been in fragile health for years, according to news reports, having survived several strokes. His death today reminds us that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Americans, and age is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Each year, over a million people in the US have a heart attack (also called a myocardial infarction), and about half of them die. Most heart attacks happen when a clot in the coronary artery blocks the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. This often leads to an irregular heartbeat, called an arrhythmia that causes a severe decrease in the pumping function of the heart.

According to the American Heart Association, the term “massive heart attack” is often incorrectly used to describe sudden death of the patient, and not the extent of the damage to the heart muscle. “Cardiac arrest” is a term that describes an abrupt loss of heart function.

Brain death and permanent death start to occur in just four to six minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest. A person’s chances of survival are reduced by 7 to 10% with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation.

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Symptoms of a heart attack include chest discomfort (pressure, squeezing or pain), shortness of breath, discomfort in the upper body (arms, shoulder, neck, back), and nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or sweating.

Being a male over 65 increases the risk for having a heart attack, as does having a personal or family history of cardiovascular disease. However, for many Americans, there are contributing risk factors that can be changed to help reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association calls these the “ABC’s” of heart attack prevention:

Avoid tobacco – smokers have a 2 to 4 time greater risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Become more active – an inactive lifestyle not only decreases the fitness of the heart muscle and blood vessels, it also increases the chances of developing a co-morbid condition that contributes to heart disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It also helps to reduce stress.

Choose good nutrition – a healthy diet can also help control the conditions that contribute to heart disease and stroke. High fiber intake, from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar. The DASH diet has been found beneficial in controlling blood pressure. A modest reduction in calories can help with weight loss.

Mr. Steinbrenner is survived by his wife Joan, sisters Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, and his children Hank, Jennifer, Jessica and Hal. His family has announced a private funeral with an additional public service to be announced at a later date.

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