You can be ultra fit and still have a heart attack

February 28, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

When someone as fit as Bob Harper, personal trainer and host of “The Biggest Loser,” has a heart attack, it’s a wake-up call for everyone.

You can live an extremely healthy lifestyle and still have a heart attack.

Harper, 51, has posted photos of himself on Instagram showing his recovery from the heart attack he had in February 2017.

Bob Harper instagram


“You can’t say, ‘You don’t look like you have heart disease.’ That doesn’t really mean anything,” said Ann Davis, MD, cardiologist with Advocate Medical Group and Edward-Elmhurst Health. “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Choosing not to smoke, being physically fit and eating healthy lowers your risk for heart disease, but you can’t ignore your genes, cholesterol and blood pressure.

“Those risk factors are important,” says David Zanghi, director of cardiodiagnostics at Edward Hospital. “(Harper) didn’t show the signs of heart disease, but he has the family history, which predisposes him.”

Another famous fitness guru, Jim Fixx, best-selling author of books on running who promoted a healthy lifestyle, died of a heart attack while running in 1984. He was 52, and had a family history of heart problems.

“Sometimes the first symptom is sudden cardiac death,” says Davis.

There is something you can do to avoid that outcome.

Chris Cobb, 48, from Naperville, never realized he was on the verge of a massive heart attack. An athlete for most of his life, Cobb was in great shape and worked out regularly.

Despite being fit and having no symptoms of heart disease, Cobb needed open heart surgery.

Cobb, however, did not have a heart attack. He was alerted to the fact that he could have heart disease after he had a heart scan, which revealed a build-up of calcium in his arteries.

A heart scan is the safest and most accurate screening tool for detecting the early build-up of calcium in the coronary arteries, the most common cause of heart disease. This simple, painless and potentially lifesaving test takes just 15 minutes.

“There’s no IV and you don’t take your clothes off,” says Davis. “There have been more times than I’d like to admit that people just go in and they’re totally asymptomatic. Everything is supposed to be terrific. Then you do the heart scan and it shows an extremely high calcium score.

“Sometimes they’ve gone on to bypass surgery. None of them would have known they had heart disease.”

Walking around not knowing if your heart is on the verge of an attack is unsettling. The good news is, with tests like the heart scan, you can find out before an attack ever happens.

Get regular physicals, get lab tests done, Zanghi says. If you feel any symptoms of disease, address them.

“It’s not scary if you can do something about it,” says Davis. “You have the power to be proactive in prevention.”

Schedule a heart scan at Edward Hospital or Elmhurst Hospital.

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