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All About Heart Disease


The heart is a muscle, like any other. But unlike other muscles, it’s vital for life. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Over half a million people die each year from heart disease in the U.S. and over 725,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack each year.

Some people are at higher risk from suffering a heart attack, including those who are obese, have a poor diet, get little physical activity, abuse alcohol or have diabetes. Regionally, deaths from heart disease occur most in the South and least in the West, according to the CDC. It discriminates only marginally by race and ethnicity, with non-Hispanic black and white individuals being at equally high risk of death by heart disease.

One of the problems with heart disease is that the standard symptoms—chest paint, arm soreness, shortness of breath—can easily be mistaken for something else and only 27 percent of people suffering from a heart attack called for help.

As the American Heart Association celebrates heart month throughout February, know the signs and how to care for your heart. Dr. Tarun Mathur, a cardiologist with the Bryn Mawr Medical Specialists Association shares some of his knowledge and tips for heart health.

MLT: What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

TM: There are some classic symptoms, sort of your textbook symptoms, which include a crushing chest heaviness or discomfort, worse with exertion, and relieved with rest or nitroglycerin. But there could also be a lot of atypical symptoms, [which occur] very frequently in women, but anybody could have atypical symptoms. That could include shortness of breath, getting winded with exertion, exercise capacities decreasing, sweats. Sometimes people get jaw pain, shoulder pain or arm pain, or have neck and even upper back, scapular pain.

MLT: Is there anything you can do to relieve the pain or help the situation before paramedics arrive?

TM: You want to make sure that you’re stable, on your feet. You don’t want to overexert yourself if you’re having a heart attack, so if there’s someone nearby to help you, that would be great. Chewing an aspirin would be helpful–the sooner, the better. Another important thing, which sort if gets overlooked, is try not to walk it off or do more exercise. You want to actually sit down and let somebody else drive you [to the hospital], don’t drive yourself.

MLT: Every winter there are stories of people having heart attacks while shoveling snow. Is there any correlation between certain exercises and heart health?

TM: There’s not necessarily any specific exercise that’s going to be bad for any one specific person. It’s more the idea that if you don’t ever exert yourself and all of a sudden you go 27 inches of snow and you suddenly decide, ‘I’m going to go shovel my entire driveway in one go without stopping,’ perhaps your heart’s not quite up for that challenge because you’re not used to that much exertion. Keeping to the amount of exertion you’re able to do is important. When you start exercising, you’re not looking to run a marathon the first day, you’re looking to increase your aerobic capacity and building up your functional status. Knowing those limits is important.

MLT: Is it true that dark chocolate and red wine have health benefits?

TM: They’ve done several studies to look at both of those and it’s come out that for the most part, an alcoholic beverage a day—one for women and one or two for men—can actually be beneficial. They isolated that down, out of all the alcoholic beverages, that the better drink would be red wine. That seems to have a correlation with better heart health. What they don’t specify with dark chocolate is the percent. They mean, I think, 70 percent or more cocoa. From what I’ve seen I think there’s something to it. If someone told me they wanted to have a glass of red wine every day with dinner, I wouldn’t knock it, but I certainly wouldn’t tell anybody to start drinking, either.


Bryn Mawr Medical Specialists, 825 Old Lancaster Road, Suite 400, Bryn Mawr. Call (610) 525-1202 to make an appointment. 

Dr. Tarun Mathur