Health News Articles

Heart Attack Sneak Attack

Jun 2, 2014
Too often, people are shocked by a heart attack they didn’t see coming. They felt otherwise healthy, so what happened?

“Frequently people who do not have any prior symptoms may not be aware which heart disease symptoms to look for, and the first symptom can be a heart attack,” says Lisa Motavalli, MD, FACC, (pictured right), a cardiologist with Princeton Medicine.

The truth is that cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the US, is largely preventable, and everyone should know how to stay healthy, what symptoms to look for and when to seek emergency help.

“Everyone should know what their personal risk is and talk to their doctor about what they can do to lower their risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Motavalli, who is board certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine.

Many people are familiar with the dramatic heart attacks portrayed in movies, but the symptoms of an actual heart attack can be very different, and sometimes, much more subtle. The most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort. According to the American Heart Assocation (AHA), a person may also experience pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath (with or without the chest pain); cold sweats; nausea; vomiting; or light headedness. Women are more likely to experience the less typical symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain.

When to Seek Help

“If you think that you or someone you are with may be experiencing a heart attack, call 9-1-1. Every minute counts when it comes to treating a heart attack,” says Dr. Motavalli. Emergency personnel can start treatment as soon as they reach you. They may also be able to call ahead to the hospital to let them know that a person with a possible heart attack is on the way, allowing the emergency room to prepare before the patient arrives.

University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro (UMCP) offers state-of-the-art emergency care for heart attacks including emergency angioplasty, a procedure to help locate and open blocked blood vessels, and therapeutic hypothermia, a treatment that helps save lives while also promoting neurologic recovery from a heart attack.

“The most important thing to know,” Dr. Motavalli continues, “is that heart disease can be prevented, it can be controlled, and there are treatments available. And it all starts with knowing your risk, talking to your doctor, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Preventing Heart Disease
As with most medical conditions, some risk factors, such as age and family history, can’t be controlled. But there are factors that you can, and should, control in order to stay healthy.

“Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, lack of physical activity, obesity— these are factors that people can improve in order to stay healthy,” says Dr. Motavalli.

Knowing your risk is just the first step. Making lifestyle changes to stay healthy is the next. Make sure that your blood pressure and your blood sugar are well controlled, and that your cholesterol numbers are good. You should be at a healthy weight—eating a low-fat, healthy diet and participating in regular physical activity.

“And definitely don’t smoke. If you do, quit,” says Dr. Motavalli. Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature deaths in the United States, according to the AHA.

For more information or to find a cardiologist affiliated with Princeton HealthCare System, call 1.888.PHCS4YOU (1.888.742.7496) or visit