women heart attacks facts 05
His and Hers Heart Attacks
01:00 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A heart attack occurs when oxygen-enriched blood flowing to the heart muscle is cut off or blocked

Most heart attacks begin slowly with chest discomfort and gradually intensify

CNN  — 

The president of the American Heart Association, Dr. John Warner, had a minor heart attack Monday during the organization’s scientific conference taking place in Anaheim, California, according to a press release.

Warner, CEO of UT Southwestern University Hospitals in Dallas, was taken to a local hospital where doctors inserted a stent to open a clogged artery. Warner is recovering and doing well, according to the Heart Association.

Prior to the attack, the 52-year-old practicing cardiologist delivered a Sunday speech where he talked about the effects of heart disease on his family. Both his father and his father’s father had heart bypass surgery while in their 60s, he told the audience. He also lost his maternal grandfather and a great grandfather to heart disease.

“After my son was born and we were introducing him to his extended family, I realized something very disturbing: There were no old men on either side of my family. None,” he told his audience. “All the branches of our family tree cut short by cardiovascular disease.”

Warnings and risks

Warning signs of a heart attack include chest discomfort, upper body pain, shortness of breath and, more rarely, cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness, according to the American Heart Association.

Most people experience an unusual feeling that begins at the center of the chest and radiates out. The discomfort, which can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, can last for more than a few minutes or go away and come back. Sometimes people have discomfort or pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Women, just like men, commonly experience chest pain or discomfort when a heart attack strikes. However, they are more likely than men to suffer other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

While most heart attacks begin slowly and gradually intensify, some strike fast with no warning signs to herald their approach. Patients require immediate medical attention in either case. Do not hesitate to call 911.

When oxygen-enriched blood flowing to the heart muscle is cut off completely or severely reduced, a heart attack occurs. The reason this can happen is coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle, can slowly become narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances. This slow process of “plaque” build-up is called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

Join the conversation

  • See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

    Those most at risk for a heart attack are people older than 65, men and people with a family history of heart disease. While these factors cannot be changed, there are additional strong predictors of heart attack that can be modified by lifestyle: smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity/overweight and diabetes.