James Gandolfini's death tragically 'typical'

12:03 AM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
  • James Gandolfini (AP)
  • Laurence Sperling, MD, Cardiologist and Director of The Center for Heart Disease Prevention at Emory University School of Medicine
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ATLANTA -- The death of Actor James Gandolfini at the age of 51 from an apparent heart attack Wednesday night is, tragically, an example of "one of the more common manifestations of heart disease," said Laurence Sperling, MD, of the Emory Heart Center.

Dr. Sperling said that aside from the medical treatment Gandolfini might have been receiving, all too often among adults, "unfortunately, the first time people find out they have heart disease is through a catastrophic event. About 50 percent of the time, the first event is either death or a heart attack, and that's a bad way to find out you have a disease."

Dr. Sperling is Director of The Center for Heart Disease Prevention at Emory University School of Medicine. He spoke with 11Alive News on Thursday.

It's very important that adults be aware of their heart risk. And being aware of your heart risk is fairly simple. It's knowing traditional risk factors --

  • do you smoke 
  • do you have high blood pressure 
  • do you have diabetes 
  • what's your famly risk of heart disease, that's very important, is there vulnerability in your family


And what is also important to be aware of is that, more and more, we're seeing young people developing heart disease because they have pre-diabetes. About a quarter or more of adult Americans have this pre-diabetic state, called metabolic syndrome.... A little bit of obesity, on top of that mild, high blood pressure, the beginings of diabetes called insulin resistance, low "good" cholesterol, and a high triglyceride level.

We see people before they have heart disease, frequently. Why? Because we know we can make a very big difference in their outcome. Understanding your risk is very important.... Even if a patient's at increased risk, we think we can make a pretty significant difference in their outcome.

Often, you're not going to have symptoms (such as chest pains before you have a heart attack). And you don't want to wait until you do have symptoms. If you do develop symptoms -- like chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath that was unusual or new for you, feeling tired -- those are the things that should be brought to the attention of your doctor and they might signal heart disease.

Don't wait until something's broken before you try to go ahead and understand it and prevent it.

The most important thing is finding the right doctor who you're comfortable with. Even if you're just a middle-aged American, you're already at risk, because most middle-aged Americans are a high-risk population during the course of their lifetime.

In our clinic here at Emory and our Center for Heart Disease Prevention, we, not uncommonly, see people who have heart attacks in their 20s or 30s or 40s. When this happens, typically there are going to be some explanations for that, meaning genetics, genetic high cholesterol, or the traditional risk factors that are already taking their toll in these young indviduals.

Don't wait until you have symptoms. Approach your doctor. Understand your own, personal heart risk. And then do something about it.  

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