Singer, songwriter and rock ‘n’ roll icon Tom Petty died on Monday night after suffering a heart attack and cardiac arrest at his Malibu home on Monday morning. He was 66 years old.
Known for such ballads as “American Girl,” “Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’,” Petty seemed to have many more years of music and performing ahead of him as he continued headlining concerts and festivals well into 2017. His heart attack serves as a cautionary tale for the rest of us to take a closer look at our heart health and how to spot the signs of a potential heart attack — even for those in their 30s.
As the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, any sign of a heart attack isn’t something you should take lightly. According to William H. Frishman, M.D., professor of pharmacology at New York Medical College and author of “Triumph Over Tragedy,” the biggest red flag to be aware of is a “crushing” chest pain under the sternum or breastbone.
But it’s also important to note that heart attack symptoms aren’t limited solely to the chest area. Another characteristic of a major heart attack is diaphoresis, or breaking into a major cold sweat, Dr. Frishman says. Additionally, someone can also experience discomfort in other parts of the body when having a heart attack, including pain in the left shoulder that radiates to the left arm or even below the breastbone in the stomach area.
For a proactive approach to preventing heart attacks, Dr. Frishman stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially for men over the age of 35 and women over the age of 40 — the typical ages when heart attack risk becomes a concern, especially for smokers or those who have other risk factors like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol.
“Don’t smoke, make sure your blood pressure is under control, avoid illicit drugs, watch your diet and keep your weight down,” he says. “Also, try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day.”
Above all, if you ever do experience any of the aforementioned heart attack symptoms — even if you’re in the peak of good health — don’t “wait it out” to see if they improve. If it is a heart attack, every minute counts. The longer you go without medical attention, the greater risk of damage or death.