6/24/02 - Warning Signals of Heart Trouble

An autopsy has shown it's likely St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Darryl Kile died of severe blockage in the heart.In fact, 80 to 90 percent of two branches of the coronary artery in his heart were blocked, which is rare for a 33 year old man.

Heart attack survivor Chuck Jackson says, "You get into the habit if I don't think about it will go away, that was what I was doing." Seven years ago, Jackson was having some tightness in his chest. He ignored the pain, thinking it was the flu. At 47 years old, he ended up having triple bypass surgery. "I had three blockages," Jackson says. "One 100 %, one 95 %, and one 90 %."

Darryl Kile had 80 to 90 percent blockages in two branches of his coronary artery. Cardiologist Dr. Allen Spitler says it can take years to develop that type of blockage. "It's a combination of heredity or some risk factors like diabetes would add to it, smoking, high blood pressure," Dr. Spitler says. And Kile was at risk, his father died of a stroke at 44. Dr. Spitler says, "Unfortunately a heart attack may occur in a person that does not have a blockage until the cholesterol ruptures and clogs the arteries suddenly."

The most important thing to do is to look for warning signs. If you have any chest discomfort, or discomfort in your upper body, such as in your arms, back, or neck, or if you have shortness of breath, take action. "If you do have symptoms, even if they're not the normal chest pains, see your doctor. He'll know what tests you need to do next," Dr. Spitler says.

Testing for blockages isn't covered in most physicals. You need to get an angiogram, or have a stress test, but sometimes even stress tests don't show a result if the arteries don't have significant blockage. The tests will range in costs from several hundred, to a few thousand dollars. Some health insurance policies cover the tests, most however do not.