One of the most striking aspects of Susan Lucci’s recent heart blockage scare is that, outwardly at least, she seemed to have none of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
The 72-year-old actress is slim, fit, active and follows the Mediterranean diet, which is famously good for the heart. During medical check-ups, every electrocardiogram (EKG) Lucci has had “was great” and her blood pressure was on the lower end of normal, she told People.
Yet, Lucci experienced chest tightness and shortness of breath that led to an emergency room visit last fall. Doctors discovered a 90 percent blockage in her heart’s main artery and a 70 percent blockage in another area. She received two stents to keep the blocked passageways open.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” she told People. “As a woman you think about breast cancer, not a heart attack.”
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE SLIM AND FIT TO STILL END UP WITH HEART TROUBLE?
First, it’s important to note Lucci had at least one strong risk factor after all — a family history of heart disease. Her father had arteriosclerosis and suffered a heart attack in his 40s, she said.
“Family history is a huge risk factor, especially if your parents or other first-degree relatives have had a heart attack or coronary artery disease at a young age like that,” Dr. Jennifer Haythe, co-director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center, told TODAY.
“If that was in my family history, I would be very proactive about getting screened, even in the absence of symptoms.”
Also, some men and women who have heart attacks or who are discovered to have plaque in their arteries just don’t have any of the common risk factors, or they have a low level of several risk factors, said Dr. Sharonne N. Hayes, founder of the Women’s Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic.
“She’s a petite woman who looks very healthy and one lesson coming out of that is heart disease really doesn’t care what you wear and how you wear it. It can sneak up on you,” Hayes said.
Predicting a heart attack before it happens can be difficult. Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease, the agency warns.
So how do you protect yourself? Most importantly, be aware of your own risk factors and the warning signs of heart trouble.