3 Facts About Heart Attacks

Image of human heart
(Image credit: Human heart diagram via Shutterstock)

"The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

Question: What causes a heart attack?

Answer: A blood clot in a narrowed coronary artery is the usual cause of a heart attack. The clogged artery prevents oxygenated blood from nourishing the heart. This can lead to pain, the death of heart cells, scar tissue and fatal arrythmias.

There are a variety of causes that lead to the narrowing of arteries, which is called atherosclerosis. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of a heart attack.

The following are some of the leading causes of heart attacks:

Genetics, high cholesterol and triglycerides, smoking, high blood pressure , a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diabetes, stress, excessive alcohol, saturated fat in your diet, age, gender and race.

More than eight out of ten people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. Men are at greater risk than women of having a heart attack. African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Native Americans are at higher risk of heart disease. [7 Foods Your Heart Will Hate]

Question: What drugs are used to treat a heart attack?

Answer: Drugs that help dissolve clots blocking blood to your heart are lifesavers. These drugs are known as thrombolytics or “clot-busters.” The earlier you are given a clot-buster, the better.

A superaspirin is given with a clot-buster. The superaspirin prevents new clots from forming.

Nitroglycerin is used to open arteries, improving blood flow to and from your heart.

Regular aspirin keeps blood moving through constricted arteries. Therefore, paramedics may give aspirin when they respond to an emergency to treat a heart-attack victim. Aspirin reduces mortality from heart attacks.

Beta blockers, which lower your pulse rate and blood pressure, can reduce damage to the heart.

Question: Can your ears predict a heart attack?

Answer: Kay Tee Khaw, a professor of clinical gerontology at Cambridge University in England, said it may be that "big ears predict survival. Men with smaller ears may die selectively at younger ages. Ear size or pattern, or both, may be a marker of some biological process related to health."

While this may sound far-fetched, many studies have shown that men with a diagonal crease in both ear lobes may have an increased risk of heart attacks.

Older people have bigger ears than they had as young adults. In short, your ears grow larger as you age. I know this sounds like a myth, but it's been proven by many scientific studies.

For example, researchers at the VA Medical Center/Texas Tech University found that ear circumference increases an average of 0.51 millimeters (0.02 inches) per year. And physicians at the Royal College of General Practitioners in England measured their patients' ears, and found that, as we get older, our ears grow about 0.22 mm (0.008 inches) a year.

If you would like to ask a question, write to fred@healthygeezer.com

All Rights Reserved © 2014 by Fred Cicetti

Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."