By now you've probably heard of the poor man who suffered a heart attack while eating a 'Triple Bypass Burger' at Las Vegas eatery Heart Attack Grill. While the Heart Attack Grill promotes itself as an establishmen that is "bad for your health," the owner of the grill John Basso told MSNBC that he could tell right away that the customer, a man in his 40s, was having a heart attack because he was "sweating, shaking, and could barely talk."
That's not the only bizarre heart story we've come across in the past couple of days. In January MSNBC reported on a case of a 68-year-old man who had suffered a heart attack. His only clue? Non-stop hiccuping!
As if that weren't enough, new research from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests that spin workouts and other forms of strenous exercise can trigger the same biochemical reactions as a heart attack.
All these believe-it-or-not scenarios got us wondering: Are you more likely to have a heart attack while eating junk food? Should we give up our beloved spin classes? Since February is American Heart Month, we went to the experts to get their opinions on these stories as well as tips on how to show your heart some love.
"The man who was stricken while eating a burger is a poignant reminder that an unfavorable diet—too many calories, too much saturated fat—increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease," says Dr. Marc Gillinov, a cardiac surgeon at the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic and co-author of Heart Health 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need. "While there is no particular meal that is known to trigger a heart attack in a person at risk, we do know that overindulgence can trigger a heart attack and worsen heart failure in those at risk."
Dr. Steve Nissen, co-author of Heart Health 411 and chairman of the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic adds, "In this case the culprit could be salt. A large quantity of salt can increase blood pressure acutely, which can trigger a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure in susceptible individuals."
This is a good reminder to follow a healthy diet and lead an active lifestyle—which is why we're not letting you give up on spin class yet!
When your heart muscles are damaged, they release an enzyme called troponin into the blood. Doctors use the presence (or absence) of troponin to diagnose whether a person has experienced a heart attack, according to Gillinov. While studies have shown that strenuous aerobic exercise can cause elevated blood levels of troponin, it tends to be a temporary change in athletes. In other words, if you work out regularly, your troponin levels may increase, but you're probably not suffering a heart attack. Both doctors also stress that regular exercise doesn't cause heart damage. So if you're looking for an excuse to get out of your next spin class, you'll have to keep looking. Medically speaking, there's no reason to fear getting back on the bike.
When it comes to the symptoms of a heart attack, it's important to realize that they can differ from men to women. For example, it's common for men to experience chest pain and a "squeezing" sensation in their chest, neck, jaw, or shoulder, but those symptoms are much less common in women. In studies published by the journal Circulation, the most common symptoms women experienced were fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
"Occasionally, hiccups, or more commonly, burping, can be a symptom of a heart attack that involves the lower portion of the heart which sits on your diaphragm," Dr. Gillinov says. "The key is change—if someone develops a symptom that is new, he or she should seek medical attention immediately."