Susan Lucci’s Story

 In Tip of the Week
Susan Lucci is a famous actress.  At 71 years old, she leads a healthy lifestyle, is still performing on stage, and is on her way to outliving her mother who is going strong at age 101. However, she did recently announce, in honor of February being American Heart Month, that she required surgery to have two stents implanted.
It started in October when she felt tightness in her chest which she attributed to a tight bra.  A few weeks later, she felt it again, but the symptoms were still mild enough to dismiss.  But the next episode was different, she felt like an “elephant was pressing on my chest,” which is a term commonly used in cardiac events.  The pain radiated through her ribcage.  She listened to her symptoms and immediately sought medical treatment.  That was the right thing to do.
The main artery that supplies the blood to her heart had a 90% blockage.  A blockage of 100% would trigger a full heart attack.  Another artery was found with a 75% blockage. She had surgery to implant the stents. She was able to leave the hospital the day after surgery and was back on stage performing two days later.
Woman’s Health once gave Susan Lucci the title of “Fitness Badass.”  She recovered so quickly and so well because of her healthy lifestyle. However, we would be well served to pay attention to some of the causes of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), because it can happen to anyone, even the physically fit.
Some of the risk factors for coronary artery disease include:
  • Age. Simply getting older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries.
  • Sex. Men are generally at greater risk of coronary artery disease. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.
  • Family history. A family history of heart disease is associated with a higher risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a close relative developed heart disease at an early age.
  • Smoking. People who smoke have a significantly increased risk of heart disease. Even secondhand smoke can increase the risk of coronary artery disease.
  • High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the channel through which blood can flow.
  • High blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaque and atherosclerosis.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease share similar risk factors as well.
  • Overweight or obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors.
  • Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise also is associated with coronary artery disease and some of its risk factors.
  • High stress. Unrelieved stress in your life may damage your arteries as well as worsen other risk factors for coronary artery disease.
  • Unhealthy diet. Eating too much food that has high amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, salt and sugar can increase your risk of coronary artery disease.


Signs of coronary arterial disease include:


  • Chest pain (angina). You may feel pressure or tightness in your chest, as if someone (remember the elephant) were standing on your chest.  This pain, referred to as angina, usually occurs on the middle or left side of the chest. It is sometimes triggered by physical or emotional stress.  Sometimes the pain goes away within minutes after stopping the stressful activity. In some people, especially women, this pain may be fleeting or sharp and felt in the neck, arm or back.
  • Shortness of breath. If your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs, you may develop shortness of breath or extreme fatigue with exertion.
  • Heart attack. A completely blocked coronary artery will cause a heart attack. The classic signs and symptoms of a heart attack include crushing pressure in your chest and pain in your shoulder or arm, sometimes with shortness of breath and sweating. Women are somewhat more likely than men are to experience less typical signs and symptoms of a heart attack, such as neck or jaw pain. Sometimes a heart attack occurs without any apparent signs or symptoms.


If you feel any of these symptoms, and they do not go away after five minutes or more, get to a doctor right away.  Don’t take chances.  If you and/or someone you care about has any of the risk factors for heart or coronary artery disease, talk to a health care professional about life style changes that can increase your ability to overcome and possibly even prevent a coronary artery disease that might lead to a heart attack.
To the right, at the bottom of the column is a video from the American Heart Association with more information about heart disease and heart attacks.
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