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James Gandolfini: fatal heart attack at 51 – how can we reduce our risk?

June 24, 2013
James Gandolfini, famous for his role in The Sopranos, died after suffering a cardiac arrest in Rome and was found collapsed by his 13-year old son who raised the alarm. Despite sustained resuscitation efforts, the 51-year old actor was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital an hour later. Dr Amanda Varnava, Consultant Cardiologist at The Physicians’ Clinic was interviewed the day after on the Vanessa Feltz radio programme to talk about how we can all reduce our risk of a heart attack, which currently claims the lives of over 80,000 people in the UK each year. “There is no single factor that leads to people developing heart disease; it is a combination of different lifestyle factors and family history. But even if there is a history of heart disease in your close family, you can still reduce that risk by taking some important steps,” says Dr Varnava.

Over 45? Worried? Get a check up

Three of the biggest risk factors for developing heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. “These are all more likely in people who are obese and who smoke, so keeping an eye on your lifestyle is important. Everyone should have life-long goals of not smoking, or stopping smoking, taking regular exercise and watching what our weight.” Sometimes, however, people can develop these conditions even though they have a healthy lifestyle – this is where checkups become important. “Genetics does play a part in heart attack risk. High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol cause no symptoms and the early symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be overlooked. It is really important for people in early middle age to commit to regular health checks as part of a healthy lifestyle, as well as adopting good eating and exercise habits.” At The Physicians’ Clinic, Dr Varnava advises anyone over 45 who has a family history of heart disease, any known risk factors, or who is just keen to have a ‘well person check’ to come in for a series of straightforward tests. “We can perform routine checks, with blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes, a blood pressure measurement and then run an electrocardiogram – ECG – if any of these are abnormal or if there is a known family history of early coronary artery disease then further tests may be needed. Anyone who smokes should also get checked as should anyone with cardiac symptoms such as chest discomfort or pain or any shortness of breath that is unexplained. In these individuals we would also probably run an echocardiogram or CT coronary angiogram. All of these tests can be done here at The Physicians’ Clinic and are followed by a consultation with a cardiologist to discuss the findings and a treatment plan.”

Multidisciplinary care

For any patients who are found to have coronary artery disease or other abnormalities in conjunction with type 2 diabetes, our cardiologists can cross-refer to physicians within the Endocrinology and Diabetes specialty, to ensure holistic medical care.
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