Over the weekend, news broke that Alex Trebek, the slightly-awkward, sometimes mustachioed long-time host of “Jeopardy!” suffered what is being called a “mild heart attack.” Which lead me (and probably a few other people in America, as heart disease remains our number one killer) to ask, in the form of a question: what is a “mild” heart attack? Aren’t all heart attacks pretty serious?
Apparently, it turns out, that’s not the case. This is actually the second mild heart attack that Trebek, who is 71, has suffered; the last one occurred five years ago, and didn’t seem to slow him down any. And, according to reports from Sony, all signs point to a full recovery for Trebek. Which is great news for trivia lovers and basically everyone who’s grown up watching him (he’s been hosting for longer than I’ve been alive) because he is great, but it definitely makes it sound like heart disease is no big deal, which we all know it is. So what’s the difference between a heart attack that kills a person, and a heart attack that results in a few weeks of bed rest?
During a typical heart attack (which the American Heart Association calls a “movie heart attack“), one of the heart’s smaller arteries is entirely blocked by a blood clot, which cuts off the heart’s blood supply. Usually, the arteries are already limited by cholesterol, which makes it difficult to preserve heart tissue and keep it from dying after the blood flow is cut off.
But during a mild heart attack, the blockage is only partial–some blood can still make it into the heart, but the flow is severely constricted, resulting in less tissue death, and minor or no chest pain at all. In fact, many individuals who suffer mild heart attacks don’t even notice anything is wrong…until something is.
Heart attack severity may also be impacted by other variants, including bacteria in the gut and time of day, which means there’s little you can do but be prepared and take no chances when symptoms begin to develop.
But even with a mild heart attack, there are still other symptoms which, if you know to look for them, can let you know it’s time to call 911. Some of the symptoms include:
- Discomfort in the arms, stomach, jaw, and upper-body that feels abnormal
- Nausea, light-headedness, and vomiting that seems to be without cause
- Squeezing, tightness, or discomfort in the left side of the body, particularly the arms
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath