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Heart attacks not so sudden
Reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack

Date published: 3/28/2010

ON A FRIDAY morning in April 2008, the 58-year-old moderator of a Sunday morning news program was in his office early, working on the upcoming show.

He had experienced a bundle of health concerns--elevated glucose levels, obesity, an abnormal cholesterol profile and high blood pressure. Yet a recent stress test was said to have been unremarkable, and he'd flown to Italy with his family that week before returning home to work on his show.

That morning, without warning, he collapsed at his desk and died. He had suffered ventricular fibrillation--a severely abnormal heart rhythm. The autopsy showed a clot blocking an artery supplying his heart.

The man, you may realize, was Tim Russert, the moderator of "Meet The Press." His death offers some important lessons about cardiovascular health.


Every 25 seconds in the United States--and hundreds of times a year in the Fredericksburg area--heart attacks occur. Forty percent of deaths in the United States are directly related to cardiovascular disease.

The personal and national impact of cardiovascular disease is staggering.

Atherosclerosis, the disease behind most cardiovascular deaths, is an inflammatory process that develops over time. To help you understand it:

Cholesterol and triglycerides are delivered to the body's cells in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles. When the particles are present in excessive amounts, some will lodge on the inner lining of the arteries.

As the particles break down, they are altered by a process called oxidation. Oxidized cholesterol-carrying particles are identified by specialized white blood cells as foreign bodies. To protect the blood vessel, the white blood cells engulf the particles and burrow under the inner lining of the vessel.

Over many years, abscesses--largely composed of white blood cells engorged with partially digested cholesterol--can enlarge enough to partially obstruct the blood vessel. This reduces blood flow to the heart muscle.

When this is significant, a person may experience chest tightness or other symptoms of decreased blood flow to the heart. This is called angina, and it leads many people to seek help.

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This column is based on three decades of cardiovascular practice, research and ongoing education. It's part of a series of columns by local cardiovascular experts. To read more about the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, visit oldwayspt.org/mediterraneandiet. For advice on your personal health needs, consult your doctor.