Grand Strand cardiologist explains heart attack risk in light of - WBTW-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Florence, SC

Grand Strand cardiologist explains heart attack risk in light of James Gandolfini's death

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) -

When 66 year old Wayne Crihfield of Myrtle Beach found out he had heart problems, he knew exactly what caused it.  Smoking cigarettes.

"I'm down to less than a pack and a half a day, where I used to be a pack, pack and a half," Crihfield said.

He suffered with high blood pressure for a while, but never even knew it because he never went to the doctor.

Now, he has a pacemaker, and is prescribed to several medications.  But by most standards, Crihfield is one of the lucky ones.

Actor James Gandolfini who was most widely known for his role as Tony Soprano in "The Sopranos" died suddenly while visiting Italy Wednesday.  Though it hasn't been officially confirmed, many believe the actor suffered a heart attack.  He was only 51 years old and his death raises questions about heart health.

"In our country, to this day, even with all the education, about 1 in 3 people find out they have heart disease by dying suddenly," Grand Strand Regional Medical Center Cardiologist Dr. Dennis Lang said.

Dr. Lang sees dozens of heart patients a week.

South Carolina leads the nation in the number of strokes per capita, and he knows from experience that heart disease isn't far behind.

"Tobacco use is much higher here, we're in the south, and people that smoke cigarettes -- their risk of stroke increases," Dr. Lang said.  "And people that have stroke, their risk of having a heart attack actually increases also."

But it's not just tobacco use.  Dr. Lang says high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are all precursors to heart disease.

While most heart attacks happen suddenly, he says the majority of people do experience some kind of symptom.

"Something has changed in their body," he said.  " It's not necessarily crushing chest pain, but they have some kind of symptom and they ignore it."

Of course, Dr. Lang recommends seeing a doctor immediately, even if you aren't sure. 

Maintaining a healthy weight, blood pressure and cholesterol level are all things that will help prevent heart disease and heart attack.

For more information and tips to stay heart healthy, click here

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