Into the Personal: A Heart Attack a Day?

I had a heart attack in 2001. It was a very mild one, a blockage in a small artery at the very southern end of my heart.

I was awake and watching on the video screen as the doctors snaked a catheter up through an opening in the artery in my thigh and up into my heart to the site where the blockage was. I felt the intense pain in my chest as they inflated the balloon, totally blocking off the artery and the blood flow to that part of my heart, and I felt the intense relief when they let the air out of the balloon and opened the passage of blood fully once again, ending my heart attack and putting a stent in place to hold it open.

At first, of course, I exercised and ate well, taking off pounds and keeping them that way, but over time it is human nature to become complacent.

With the help of diet and medication, I keep my cholesterol under control, and my weight only 5% or so above what the ideal should be, but over the years my exercise has diminished, especially since here in Georgia it is hotter than hell during the summer, and that gives me a good excuse to avoid getting any.

But recently – after a stress test – I decided to get back into shape and have begun an exercise program to do just that. Five days per week, alternating between “stressful” aerobics (3 days) and weight training and light aerobics (2 days). It’s going fine so far – I can see improvement and I feel better, but it also raises the phenomena that is the subject of this post: Because I didn’t take care of myself before my heart attack, I have to live with the feeling that I am having a heart attack every day.

The heart attack left me with a small area in my heart that gets deprived of oxygen when I exercise or otherwise have an advanced heart rate. This causes somewhat sharp pains in my chest and in my left arm – very similar to the symptoms of my heart attack.

It’s called angina, and even what I have is mild compared to some other people. It won’t kill me, it’s kind of like a scar, except it hurts when I put stress on my cardio-respiratory system.

And, since putting stress on my heart and lungs is the only way to increase my cardio capacity I have to work through the angina, work through the feeling that I am having another heart attack just to make my heart stronger.

Kind of ironic, huh?

Some people are incapacitated by the pain they get from angina – likening it to “an elephant sitting on your chest,” something I have never felt. Imagine trying to run, or even walk while feeling that. I’m lucky that I can work through mine, and if you have never had a heart attack, you are luckier still.

The point? Does there have to be a point? Well, there is, and this is it: genetics, your family history is the strongest predictor of heart trouble. Stress, diet and lack of exercise can exacerbate it, just as controlling all of those things can lower your risk, but knowing what might be coming is the best preventative.

So take note of your risk factors, watch your diet, and run pain free while you can.

A heart attack per day isn’t fun, trust me…

By Writeside