Heart Disease and Heart Attacks

Cardiovascular, or heart, disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States and Europe. More American women die of heart disease than any other illness, and one out of two women will develop heart and vascular disease during their lifetime. 

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains the warning signs of a heart attack and what happens to the body during one.

Common causes:  

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include  smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, untreated diabetes, obesity,  stress and lack of regular exercise. However, heart attacks can affect seemingly healthy people.

Common symptoms of a heart attack:  

• Chest pain 

Upper body pain 

Shortness of breath 

Stomach pain 


Cold sweats

Commonly overlooked symptoms of a heart attack:  


Abdominal pain or nausea 



Neck or jaw pain

Treatment options:

Everyone should learn what to do if someone is suffering from a heart attack:


•  Check if the person is breathing. 

Check for a pulse. 

Raise legs 18 inches off the ground to allow blood to flow towards the heart. 

• Perform chest compressions. 

If these actions don't restore a pulse, perform CPR until an ambulance arrives. 

If the person regains consciousness, give him or her aspirin to thin the blood.


Don't panic — take action and dial 911. 

Don't leave the person alone. 

Don't allow the person to convince you not to call for medical help. 

Don't wait to see if the symptoms will go away.


Undergoing simple heart tests can help doctors detect heart problems before they become life-threatening.

Coronary Angiogram:  An imaging test in which fluid is injected into the coronary arteries, and then the heart and blood vessels are filmed while the heart pumps blood. The images can show blockage, and the test is the most accurate way to assess the presence of coronary disease.  

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG):  An EKG checks the electrical activity of the heart as it contracts and rests. It can identify arrhythmias, heart damage, inadequate blood flow and heart enlargement. 

Echocardiogram:  A noninvasive test that uses ultrasound to evaluate the shape, structure and strength of the heart muscle and looks at the walls and chambers of the heart. It can help identify irregularities in the heart muscle and valves.