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February 06, 2006
Heart Attacks: What You Need to Know

Make sure they understand the risk factors. Employees most at risk of having a heart attack include smokers, overweight workers, those with high cholesterol levels, people with high blood pressure or diabetes, and workers with a family history of heart attacks. Although men are generally at greater risk of having a heart attack, heart disease is still the leading cause of death among women. More than 250,000 women die each year from heart attacks, which kill six times as many women as breast cancer.

Spend some time on the symptoms. Everybody should be able to recognize the signs of a possible heart attack—whether in themselves or in a co-worker. Common symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort, mainly in the center of the chest, that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and returns. The discomfort might feel like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath often accompanies chest discomfort, but it can also occur before chest pains.
  • Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.

Be sure to warn employees not to ignore any possible symptoms. Even if they're not sure it's a heart attack, they should still have it checked out. Fast action saves lives.

Why It Matters...
  • Heart disease is the number 1 killer of both men and women in the United States.
  • More than 1 million Americans have heart attacks every year, and half of them don't survive the attack.
  • Many sufferers don't even know they have heart disease.
  • About half of all heart attack deaths occur within 1 hour of the start of symptoms and before the person gets to a hospital.

A delay in getting treatment can result in permanent heart damage—damage that can greatly reduce the ability to perform everyday activities—or even death.

Emphasize prevention. Taking a few simple steps can help anyone reduce the risk of heart attack. Here's what to tell your employees:

  • Don't smoke. It doubles your risk of heart attack. But after you stop, your risk soon drops to that of a lifelong nonsmoker.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose nutritious foods low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat and nonfat dairy products. Avoid junk food, fried food, and sugary snacks.
  • Get some exercise. Find an activity you enjoy and do it regularly.
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