February is American Heart Month, and a Georgia medical expert said knowing the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest can help save a life.

Every year, more than 800,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack, and the majority are first-time heart attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Jaime Burkle, medical director of the Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids at the Georgia Heart Institute, said cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body, and they stop breathing. He added circulation needs to be restored immediately with CPR.

He noted one of the causes of cardiac arrest could be a heart attack, which is due to blockage in the circulation in the coronary arteries.

“The coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with blood,” Burkle explained. “And when you have a buildup of cholesterol plaque inside the artery, and then a blood clot, this will interrupt the circulation of blood inside the heart muscle and cause a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction.”

Burkle pointed out if cardiac arrest results from a heart attack, which is about 25% of the cases, then it is preventable. He added prevention starts with tackling the risk factors which can cause heart attacks, such as elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and obesity.

Dr. Ravi Johar, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, said a cardiac arrest can happen to a teenager playing baseball, who’s hit by a ball at the exact moment in the heartbeat cycle to disrupt it. He added family medical history and genetics can help determine if someone is prone to experience cardiac arrest or a heart attack. Screening and tests are encouraged for those with high-risk family history.

“Things like Marfan syndrome increases the risk of aneurysms and abnormal blood flow to the heart, and things of that sort,” Johar noted. “There can be some genetic consequences. There can also be genetic history, if your parents had problems with their hearts, there’s a higher likelihood that you may.”

Johar stressed it is important to be aware of some of the most common heart-attack signs including tightness, pressure, or an aching sensation in the chest which can spread through the upper body, plus shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness.

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Health advocates are promoting a package of bills this legislative session to make health care easier to get – and more affordable.

The Care 4 All California coalition, which includes more than 70 organizations, unveiled a set of 10 bills Wednesday in Sacramento.

Andrea Rivera, senior legislative advocate for the California Pan Ethnic Health Network, said grassroots support can make big things happen.

“Historically, communities of color, we’re not invested in,” Rivera pointed out. “Together, we are stronger, louder, and more powerful. Together, we cannot be ignored.”

The coalition sees the bills as a series of steps on the way to achieving universal coverage by bringing down costs and removing barriers to care.

Right now, the Affordable Care Act bars undocumented people from purchasing health coverage through the Covered California marketplace.

Asm. Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, introduced a bill to ask the feds for a waiver.

“That’s why I introduced a before this year, a bill that will end the unjust exclusion of our undocumented community from Covered California,” Arambula explained. “We have to create a health care system that is more universal, affordable and equitable for all Californians.”

Asm. Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, authored Assembly Bill 1208 to eliminate deductibles and lower copays for people on Covered California Silver plans. She wrote a second bill to allow Medi-Cal to offer additional services to new mothers.

“AB 608 would expand a mother’s access to perinatal health workers who screen for postpartum depression, help with child nutrition, and provide a warm handoff to a host of other social services,” Schiavo outlined.

Other bills in the package aim to eliminate surprise ambulance bills, require private health plans to cover things like wheelchairs when prescribed by a doctor, improve access to mental health care for youths, increase oversight of health care mergers, and improve financial transparency from medical groups.

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Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in the number of lives it will take in Iowa this year. Now, doctors at the University of Iowa are studying ways to not only save lives, but reduce the number of colon cancer surgeries for patients.

Currently, colon cancer patients typically have to undergo surgery to have part of their colon removed or resected. Now, University of Iowa researchers are using immunotherapy to reduce surgeries and improve survival rates. If a patient’s tumor biopsy has a certain genetic marker or mutation, they can receive targeted therapy instead of undergoing surgery.

Dr. Saima Sharif, Oncologist at the University of Iowa Holden Cancer Center, is directing a new treatment trial and said the number of people with the genetic mutation could be as high as 20%.

“So one in five patients who are getting their colonoscopy is a significant amount of patients,” Sharif pointed out. “If we look in Iowa, we are expecting to have about 1,600 new cases diagnosed in 2023.”

If doctors can detect the tumors early and treat them, they can reduce the number of people who need surgeries and, potentially, the number of deaths. Researchers began accepting patient applications for the clinical trial this week.

Cancer tricks the body’s natural immune system into thinking abnormal cancer cells are normal, so the body will not attack them, allowing the cancer to grow. Immunotherapy turns the tables on cancer and uses the body’s own cells and other drugs to attack it. Sharif noted immunotherapy makes the cancer fighting cells unrecognizable, which is what makes it successful.

“So what immunotherapy drugs do is it helps release the brakes off of the patient’s immune system that the cancer has placed,” Sharif outlined. “Preventing it to recognize cancer as abnormal, and this unleashes the patient’s own immune system against the cancer to fight the cancer cells and kill them.”

The trial will start with 25 patients. Sharif added they will grow the study depending on how many patients’ tumors respond well to the treatment.

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This March marks the 50th anniversary of National Nutrition Month.

Making sure children eat healthy can be tricky.

Chuck Larimer, an elementary school physical education teacher in Stayton, southeast of Salem, said his school has been part of the American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge for 23 years.

He observed students look forward to the program, but it’s not just about getting active.

“There’s more to it than just exercise, which is also important,” Larimer explained. “It’s that whole body wellness that’s more of a focus”

The Kids Heart Challenge has been going on for nearly 45 years in elementary, middle and high schools across the country.

The American Heart Association said a few tips for parents can help introduce healthy foods to kids, even if they’re picky eaters. Parents should include at least one item in meals everyone at the table likes. The group urged parents to shop and cook with their kids, and not get discouraged.

“I know at least with my boys’ experience that taste buds do change and things that taste weird, or they might not like early on,” Larimer noted. “That can change. And just try to continue to introduce different items.”

Research has shown it can take at least 11 tries for a child to decide they like a new food, according to the American Heart Association. It also advised parents to offer fruits and vegetables when it is snack time to get them used to it.

Disclosure: The American Heart Association-Western States Region contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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