February 22, 2010


LEWISBURG, Tenn. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country. Its victims include women, men, and people of all backgrounds and ethnicities. Although heart disease is one of the most costly and widespread health problems, it is among the most preventable. In recognition of Heart Month, Marshall Medical Center (MMC) reminds the community that raising awareness and knowing the signs and symptoms of heart disease can help save lives.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, Tennessee was ranked third highest in cardiovascular disease deaths in the nation. The risk for Tennesseans dying from cardiovascular disease in this period was 16 percent higher than the national average.

“Cardiovascular disease includes diseases of the heart and blood vessels. For most people, heart and blood vessel problems develop over time. Atherosclerosis can occur, which is a process that begins in childhood and involves a gradual buildup of plaque in the arteries,” explains Dr. Janice Vinson, cardiologist at the MMC Specialty Clinic.

When plaque, which contains fat, cholesterol and other substances, grows large enough to significantly reduce blood flow through an artery, it can become fragile and rupture. Plaques that rupture can cause blood clots to form. These clots can block blood flow at the site of the rupture or can break off and travel through the artery to another part of the body. If either happens and blocks an artery that feeds the heart or brain, it causes a heart attack or stroke.

“Symptoms associated with heart attacks may be dramatic. However, often times the chest discomfort does not present as a direct and piercing pain, but more as pressure or tightness in the chest,” says Dr. Vinson.

Knowing the warning signs of a heart attack can help prevent further damage. Dr. Vinson encourages people to be aware of the following symptoms:

  • An uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, tightness, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts a few minutes or stops and comes back
  • Discomfort in other parts of upper body, one or both arms, jaw, back, neck or stomach
  • Shortness of breath—may occur without chest discomfort
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Nausea, light-headedness, breaking out into a cold sweat


Screenings such as physical and chemical stress tests and vascular diagnostic testing to detect blockages in the circulatory system can offer peace of mind by helping to determine if one is at a greater risk for a heart attack.

People can lower their risk for cardiovascular disease by increasing physical activity. “Aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, cycling or even dancing, can increase your heart health over time,” says Dr. Vinson.