Death of Soprano's star James Gandolfini shines spotlight on importance of heart health

Akron doctor says know symptoms, risk factors

AKRON, Ohio - Donald Fraleigh knows the importance of heart health. In January, doctors worried his aortic valve was getting too small and he wasn't getting enough blood pumping through his heart.

"I was getting short of breath and getting dizzy spells," Fraleigh said.

The 71-year-old Copley resident didn't suffer cardiac arrest, but clearly he was at risk if something wasn't done to fix the problem. Doctors replaced the valve and also installed a pacemaker.

Fraleigh is now on a low-calorie diet, walks one to two miles each day and completes physical therapy three times a week through Akron General Medical Center.

"I keep telling everybody, 'You're not as healthy as you think you are,'" he said.

The shocking death of 51-year-old James Gandolfini, best known as mob boss Tony Soprano in the HBO hit "The Sopranos", has shined a spotlight on the importance of knowing symptoms and risk factors for cardiac arrest.

The larger-than-life actor died, apparently from cardiac arrest, in Rome on Wednesday.

Dr. Les Tobias, medical director of Cardiac Cath Lab at Akron General Medical Center, said cardiac arrest-- when the heart stops from going too fast or two slowly--  is the biggest cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

"Cardiac arrest really doesn't spare anyone. I think we have to take every symptom very seriously," Tobias said.

Those symptoms include chest discomfort, the heart racing or skipping beats, shortness of breath or a new feeling of fatigue.

Tobias said the problem is some people ignore the symptoms and don't get the help they need, assuming 12 hours of chest pain could be a case of indigestion.

"Most of us don't like to know that we are ultimately going to die so we kind of ignore the fact that our bodies are telling us something different," he said.

The cardiologist says people without symptoms should be fine getting routine physicals every one or two years through their primary care physicians. However, those with a family history of heart disease-- especially if a family member has died under the age of 55-- should get more regular checkups.

Tobias said risk factors for cardiac arrest include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and smoking.

He said people should consider proactive measures including a healthier diet and exercise.

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