You can beat a heart attack!

by Ellon Labana

Geoffrey “Jepoy” C. Igagamao was only 18 when the doctor diagnosed him with high blood pressure. At the age of 25, he was already working in the corporate world. His doctor told him to take hypertension medicine because aside from having high blood pressure he also had high cholesterol.

“It runs in our family,” he admitted. “I didn’t follow what my doctor said since I was still too young to take such kind of medicine.”

Years passed by and he got married. He has his own business and is having kids already. He took hypertension medicines alright but “I did not take them religiously,” he said.

Everything was going normal regarding his health. But it was a different story when he reached 44 years old. “It was June 17, 2017, when I had my first massive chest pain,” he recalled. “I didn’t even discover that it was a heart attack because the ER doctor did not tell me.”

The doctor told him that he may be “was just tired” as the results of the lab tests didn’t show any reference to a heart attack.

He returned home and a week after the incident happened, Jepoy went to Manila to attend the Couples for Christ International Conference. He again experienced chest pain and was rushed to a nearby hospital.

The doctor told him he had had a heart attack. “I had one blockage in my heart,” he said. “An angioplasty surgery was performed and one stent was placed in my artery.”

Two days before Valentine’s Day this year, he started having chest pain again. “I was admitted to two hospitals for a total of thirteen days,” he said. “The doctors discovered that I had five coronary artery blockages.”

Jepoy had another angioplasty surgery on February 29. “I have 6 metal stents in my coronary arteries now,” he said.

He survived and he learned his lessons well now. “My mistake was I haven’t completely changed my diet since 2017,” he admitted. “And I also missed medicine for almost six years. I haven’t had a regular check-up, too, since 2017.”

Jepoy considers this as his third life. “Now, I am very strict with my diet: no more meats, processed foods, and fast foods. Low carb and low salt and sugar. I follow all the meds prescriptions and I will have a regular check up every six months.”

Each year, thousands of Filipinos suffer from heart attack – and many of them die unnecessarily. The reason for this is that people often don’t realize they are having a heart attack. A 2000 study of people aged 65 and over published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that one in five attacks had gone undiagnosed. 

“When people recognize the symptoms and act quickly, most heart attacks aren’t fatal,” says Dr. Willie T. Ong, a well-known medical columnist and book author who’s a cardiologist by profession.

Our heart works 24 hours a day, pumping oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the body. Blood is supplied to the heart through its coronary arteries. In coronary heart disease (CHD), plaques or fatty substances build up inside the walls of the arteries. The plaques also attract blood components, which stick to the artery wall lining. Medical scientists call this process atherosclerosis, which develops gradually – over many years.  It often begins early in life, even in childhood.

The fatty buildup, or plaque, can break open and lead to the formation of a blood clot that seals the break, health experts explain.  The clot reduces blood flow.  The cycle of fatty buildup, plaque rupture, and blood clot formation causes the coronary arteries to narrow, reducing blood flow.

When too little blood reaches the heart, the condition is called ischemia. Chest pain, or angina, may occur. The pain can vary in occurrence and be mild and intermittent, or more pronounced and steady. It can be severe enough to make normal everyday activities difficult. The same inadequate blood supply also may cause no symptoms, a condition called silent ischemia.

“If a blood clot suddenly cuts off most or all blood supply to the heart, a heart attack results,” explains Dr. Rafael D. Castillo, a cardiologist who works at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital. “Cells in the heart muscle that do not receive enough oxygen-carrying blood begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.”

Tell-tale Signs

Are there tell-tale signs that a person will know that he’s experiencing a heart attack? Yes, according to The Merck Manual of Medical Information. It says that about two out of three people who have heart attacks experience intermittent chest pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue a few days beforehand. 

The episodes of pain may become more frequent even after less and less physical exertion. “Such unstable angina may culminate in a heart attack,” warns the Merck manual.

Generally, the most recognizable symptom is pain in the middle of the chest that may spread to the back, jaw, or left arm. According to the ADAM Medical Encyclopedia, the pain can be severe or mild. It can feel like: a tight band around the chest, bad indigestion, something heavy sitting on your chest, and squeezing or heavy pressure. The pain usually lasts longer than 20 minutes.

“The pain of a heart attack is similar to the pain of angina but is generally more severe, lasts longer, and isn’t relieved by rest or nitroglycerin,” the Merck manual states. 

Angina is a suffocating, choking pain, usually used in reference to angina pectoris, which is felt in the chest. The pain is felt or brought on by exercise and relieved by rest, and occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is inadequate.

Other symptoms of a heart attack include a feeling of faintness and a heavy pounding of the heart. Irregular heartbeats may seriously interfere with the heart’s pumping ability or may cause the heart to stop pumping effectively (cardiac arrest), leading to a loss of consciousness or even death.

During a heart attack, a person may become restless, sweaty, and anxious and may experience a sense of impending doom. The lips, hands, or feet may turn slightly blue. An elderly person may become disoriented.

“A heart attack is a medical emergency,” says the Merck manual. “Half of the deaths from heart attack occur in the first three to four hours after symptoms begin. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chances of survival.  Anyone having symptoms that might indicate a heart attack should get prompt medical attention.”

Most people who survive for a few days after a heart attack can expect a full recovery, but about 10 percent die within a year, according to the Merck manual. Most deaths occur in the first three to four months.

Meanwhile, Jepoy offers these “three takeaways” based on his experience: One, do not take for granted your health. Have a regular check-up. Follow strictly your doctor’s advice. Two, eat the right food. Change your diet if you have medical conditions. Do aways with vices. Three, always have a deep faith in our God. Give your all to Him because, despite our mistakes, He will help us survive.

(Photos courtesy of Geoffrey Igagamao)

Written By: Henrylito D. Tacio

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