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Know the risk factors and symptoms for heart attack

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


February is American Heart Month — a great time to look at personal risk for heart disease and learn more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.


Many people are at risk for heart disease because of factors they can’t control, including age, race and family history of heart disease. African Americans, American Indians and Mexican Americans are more likely than Caucasians to have heart disease.


Other risk factors can be controlled, especially by learning more about your “numbers” from a doctor. Keep blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol and weight under control to decrease risk.

  • Ideal blood pressure is 120/80 or less.
  • Blood glucose under 99 is the number to aim for.
  • Total cholesterol should be under 200 mg/dL with LDL less than 100 mg/dL. An HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL is considered a major risk factor for heart disease.
  • Normal weight is a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25. A person who is 5’8” and weighs about 165 pounds would have a BMI of 25.


It’s also important to know the symptoms of a heart attack. Minutes matter when a person is having a heart attack and it is critical that the person receives care as soon as possible. Signs that a person is having a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort: Discomfort in the middle of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. People have described it as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing and fullness.
  • Pain in other parts of the body — in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest pain.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat or having nausea or lightheadedness


Use this information to assess if you are at risk for a heart attack and take steps to decrease your risk. If you think you or someone you are with is having a heart attack, call 911.


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Last Updated 02/22/2011