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Consumers & Families
This Months Featured Article
Fall 2004

Heed The Warning Signs: Heart Attack, Stroke and Cardiac Arrest

Heart Health in America
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease and stroke (major components of what is termed cardiovascular disease) are the first and third leading causes of death for both men and women in America. More than 950,000 people in this country die of cardiovascular disease every year; that translates into one person dying approximately every 33 seconds.

In addition to the data on deaths, take a look at information about living with these conditions:

  • Approximately 61 million Americans (almost 1/4 of our country’s population) have some form of cardiovascular disease.
  • Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of premature, permanent disability among working adults.
  • Stroke alone accounts for the disability of more than 1 million of our fellow Americans.
  • Annually, close to 6 million hospitalizations result from people needing care and treatment for cardiovascular disease.
  • When it comes to paying the piper, the cost of heart disease and stroke in 2003 was approximately $350 billion, a combination of expenditures for healthcare and the losses in productivity due to death and disability.

Warning Signs: Getting to Know Them
No doubt about it, heart attack and stroke are clearly life-and-death emergencies. Acting fast in summoning emergency aid can truly mean the difference between life and death or between minor impact and serious disability. If you or a person close to you experiences these signs, Call 911. Not all people will have each one of these signs. Whether the person experiencing the emergency is you, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger, knowing the warning signs of a heart attack, a stroke, and cardiac arrest can make you a lifesaver. Note the time when symptoms appeared—emergency and hospital personnel can use that information for making decisions about intervention.

Heart Attack

  • Chest discomfort. Most people having heart attacks feel discomfort in the center of their chest that lasts for more than just a few minutes. For some people, the discomfort goes away and then returns. This discomfort is usually described as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. People may have pain or discomfort in one or both arms, their back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. People may have shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs: Some people may break out in a cold sweat, feel lightheaded, or have nausea.


  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the person’s face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or trouble understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Cardiac Arrest

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness. No response to gentle shaking.
  • No normal breathing. The victim does not take a normal breath when you check for several seconds.
  • No signs of circulation. No movement or coughing.
  • Cardiac arrest strikes immediately and without warning.

Learning More
The American Heart Association (AHA) has an enormous collection of resources for you and your family to use in learning about heart health. Many interactive programs are available online at no cost to you. These include their Profiler and Tracker series for people with different heart conditions to learn about and monitor their own health status, and assist in making decisions with their physicians. This organization sponsors research, publishes several journals, reports, and related literature, and implements programs to support heart health through medicine, rehabilitation, nutrition, fitness, public health, and national awareness campaigns.

To learn more about what the AHA has to offer, go to:



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