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Jul 15, 2013

A Stark Reminder of Americans' Widespread Heart Disease Risk

Beloved actor James Gandolfini’s early death is a wake-up call to the millions of Americans at risk for heart disease.

In the wake of Emmy Award-winning actor James Gandolfini’s death, we often find ourselves asking “Why?” Why are we seeing more young lives affected or drastically cut short by heart disease? At the age of 51, Gandolfini had an impressive career behind him, and an even brighter future ahead.  Were there warning signs that one day he might die from sudden cardiac arrest? And could it have been avoided?

According to experts, heart problems have become all too common in young adults in recent years. Most adults have major risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and these risk factors are not always being addressed and controlled. But the good news is that most of this risk is a result of lifestyle factors—poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise. So for everyone who has faced shock and sadness following this tragic news, the take home message is that many Americans, like Gandolfini, are at risk for heart problems, but there’s plenty we can do to change that.

Most importantly, you should “know your numbers” for certain markers of heart health, including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. If you haven’t had these numbers checked recently, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Most doctors test these numbers at annual check-ups, but patients with higher risk for heart disease may need them checked more frequently.

Once you know your numbers, it’s easy to see whether you’re in a healthy range or if you have risk factors that you need to address. If all of your numbers are considered normal or healthy, it’s important to continue to make healthy lifestyle choices to further promote better health, like by eating healthy and staying active. And if your numbers are less than ideal, taking steps to reduce your risk is key to preventing heart disease. Often, lifestyle changes like improving diet or increasing physical activity levels can help reduce risk, and sometimes medication or additional therapies are needed to more effectively reduce cardiovascular risk.

For many, Gandolfini’s death serves as a stark reminder that so many of us are at risk for heart disease, regardless of age, income or even fame, and need to make changes to promote better heart health. By taking simple steps like visiting our doctor and making lifestyle changes, we have the power to improve our health and prevent ever developing heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • Who is most at risk for sudden cardiac death?

  • Men are 2-3 times more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest than women. Risk also increases with age, particularly in those with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as an arrhythmia or heart failure. It is important to address any cardiovascular risk factors or conditions to reduce risk for sudden cardiac arrest and death.


Lisa Cox is CardioSmart

Triathlete Lisa Cox was on a routine run with friends when she went into sudden cardiac arrest. As a survivor, she now stresses the importance of knowing your family history and prevention.

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