Symptoms of a heart attack include the sensation of crushing pressure in the chest or upper abdomen.  The pain can be sharp or dull and can sometimes feel like it is traveling up the neck or down the left arm.  This can be accompanied by shortness of breath, feeling faint or dizzy, sweating, nausea, and vomiting.  It is very important to note that women may not experience typical symptoms during a heart attack.  They may feel symptoms that can easily be confused with gastrointestinal problems.  A woman may be more likely to dismiss her symptoms as nothing more than an upset stomach.  Or, even if she does seek medical attention, a doctor may not immediately think she is having a heart attack.  Either way, the diagnosis can be delayed, losing more heart muscle as time goes by.  Male or female, it is very important to seek medical attention for any of these symptoms.

Western Treatment of Heart Attack

First and foremost, if you are having symptoms of a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately.  Earlier treatment is associated with better long-term outcomes.  No medical provider would scoff at you for seeking treatment for acute symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.  Even if it turned out that you had heartburn rather than a heart attack, it is better to be safe rather than sorry.

If, unfortunately, you are having a myocardial infarction (heart attack), you would be given medications to normalize your blood pressure and improve the flow of oxygen to your heart.  There are medications that can raise your blood pressure and others that can lower it.  You would be given which ever drug is necessary.  Other medications can relax blood vessels and increase their caliber, allowing oxygen-rich blood to flow through more easily.  Another special class of drugs can actually break up clots within your arteries to increase blood flow.  Not everyone is a candidate for these clot-busting medications as they can have severe side effects such as internal hemorrhage and stroke.

Once stabilized, doctors may offer a procedure called an angioplasty.  This is a mechanical method of expanding the diameter of a blocked coronary artery, thereby increasing blood flow to the heart.  This is done by inserting a thin, balloon-tipped tube into the obstructed artery and then inflating the balloon.  This pushes the plaque open and improves the diameter of the vessel.  Sometimes, a stent is left in place in an effort to keep the vessel wide open.

Although this sounds like an ingeniously simple idea, there can be severe complications, such as tearing the vessel.  Another complication is an embolism.  This occurs when the plaque is fragmented as a side effect of the procedure.  Pieces of the plaque then travel through the bloodstream until they lodge in smaller vessels.  If they end up in the circulation of the brain, this can cause a stroke.  Your doctor would discuss these risks with you before the angioplasty.

Occasionally, bypass surgery may be needed, sometimes emergently.  In this surgery, the obstruction is bypassed by taking a non-essential vein from another part of the body (usually the leg) and inserting it onto the coronary (heart) artery so that blood will flow around the blockage.  This is similar to creating a traffic detour.  Coronary bypass surgery produces an immediate improvement in the oxygenation of the heart, but it should be viewed as only a temporary solution.  Unless you take measures to correct the underlying cause of atherosclerosis and chronic inflammation, the new “detour” will most likely become clogged with inflamed plaque. If that happens, your symptoms will recur.

Western Prevention of Heart Attack

Ideally, the best course of action is to prevent a heart attack in the first place.   By preventing the first assault on the heart, you may also be able to prevent subsequent cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure.  Because there is no one single cause of heart disease, preventing its onset requires a multi-pronged approach.   In the past, a great deal of attention was paid to lowering cholesterol levels using both dietary and pharmacologic interventions.  Interestingly, most heart attacks happen in people who have normal cholesterol levels. The more recent and more effective approach is to decrease chronic inflammation within the body.  It is inflammation of the fibrous covering of the plaque that renders it vulnerable to rupture, leading to subsequent formation of blood clots (thrombi) within the heart’s blood vessels.  This is why the prevention of coronary artery disease requires methods that incorporate anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, and anti-oxidant techniques.  It is also useful to reduce the amount of cholesterol contained in low-density lipoproteins known as LDL-C, shifting the balance of cholesterol subtypes to a more favorable ratio.

Sleep – Strive to sleep at least 7 hours each night.

Anti-inflammatories – Using food to decrease the amount of chronic inflammation within your body is probably the easiest and most efficient way to create a healthier cardiovascular system.  One of the components of our diet that can affect inflammation is the fatty acid.  Fatty acids are exactly that – organic acids that occur naturally as fats or oils.  This may sound like something you wouldn’t want in your body, but fatty acids are the essential building blocks of hormones and are involved in gene expression and immune function.  Also, fatty acids are found in the membranes of every cell in your body, particularly your brain and nervous system.

There are various types of fatty acids, but the two that humans cannot synthesize are omega-6 and omega-3.  For this reason, they are called Essential Fatty Acids.  The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can greatly influence our health.   Omega-6 fatty acids generate more inflammatory mediators than omega-3 fatty acids.  This is not such a terrible thing if the balance of the two is correct.  However, our modern diet has seen staggering changes in the last fifty years, particularly in the area of omega-6: omega-3 ratios.  This balance has shifted, with catastrophic results.  Scientists have demonstrated that this dietary disequilibrium directly contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease as well as most chronic illnesses known to Western societies such as cancer, arthritis, and autoimmune conditions.

To increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, you can eat cold-water fish twice a week.  Such fish include wild-caught mackerel, salmon, albacore tuna, and sardines.  Farm-raised fish may have been fed cereal-based food whereas wild-caught fish eat algae, which is much higher in omega-3 fatty acids.  For this reason, wild-caught is a better choice if it is available to you.  If not, farm-raised cold-water fish still has many benefits and you should incorporate it into your diet if wild-caught is not accessible.

Aside from fish, omega-3 fatty acids can be found in abundance in flax seed, soybeans, green leafy vegetables like kale and chard, and nuts, especially walnuts.

Taking a supplement that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids is another way to help prevent heart disease.  This could be in the form of fish oils or flaxseed oil.  A sufficient amount would be 1 gram/day. If you are actively treating heart disease or other inflammatory conditions, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids required can be considerably higher, but you should consult your physician before increasing the dose.

Anti-oxidants – Oxidation is a process that occurs within the body as a consequence of normal metabolic activities. You have observed oxidation at work in the outside world if you have ever seen a fruit turn brown after it is cut open or seen metal rust. Oxidation within the body creates a type of molecule called a free radical.  Free radicals are unstable and attach to themselves and other compounds. They have received a lot of bad publicity in recent years, being associated with the creation of genetic mutations that can lead to cancer and other degenerative diseases.  But the truth is, free radicals are essential to life.  They are the intermediate steps in chemical reactions that assist your immune system in controlling infection.  Free radicals are also involved in cell signaling and regulate such processes as dilating or constricting blood vessels to influence blood pressure.

To prevent the presence of excessive amounts of free radicals, you can increase your intake of anti-oxidants.  This can be done either with food and/or dietary supplements.  Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are excellent sources of natural anti-oxidants.  Various population-based studies have demonstrated that people whose diets are centered on these foods have less heart disease and fewer cardiovascular related deaths.

Beyond food, certain supplements may be suggested by your doctor for their benefit as anti-oxidants.  These include:

- Vitamins: - B6, B12, Folic Acid and Vitamin D

- Supplements: - Coenzyme Q10

Anti-thrombotics –Taking anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements and eating foods that will prevent inflammation of intravascular plaque is very beneficial, but it is also important to reduce the chance of blood clot (thrombus) formation within the vessels.  Anti-thrombotic activity can be increased by food, supplements, and medications.

Garlic and onions both are noted for their anti-platelet activity and their ability to help break down clots that have already formed.   Botanical supplements such as ginseng, hawthorn, and gingko have all have anti-platelet effects that can help to increase blood flow; however, they may also cause unwanted bleeding.  Before taking any of these botanicals, it is imperative that you speak to your doctor to ensure these supplements will not adversely interact with any of your medications and that they are appropriate for your condition.

The above is an excerpt from True Wellness for Your Heart: Combine the Best of Western and Eastern Medicine for Optimal Health by Aihan Kuhn, CMD, OBT and Catherine Kurosu, MD, L.Ac., Publication Date, May 2020, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN 978-1-59439-735-6.