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April 11, 2006 > When Chest Pain Signals Heart Trouble

When Chest Pain Signals Heart Trouble

Chest pain. It's known as one of the most common warning signs of heart disease, the leading cause of death in America. When chest pain is related to a heart problem, it's called angina pectoris - a condition affecting 6 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association.

But, how do you know if that pain in your chest is signaling heart disease, or if it means something else, like an ulcer or problems with your esophagus or gall bladder?

Fremont cardiologist David K. Berke, M.D., will discuss angina - how it is diagnosed and treated and what to do when you experience it - at a free public seminar sponsored by Washington Hospital on Tuesday, April 18, at 6 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium in Fremont.

Crushing, burning or tightness

"The classic symptom of angina is a crushing, burning or tightness of the central chest that tends to radiate into the arm, jaw or back. Brought on by physical or emotional stress, the pain usually goes away with rest or relaxation," explains Dr. Berke. "It's a common sign of coronary artery disease, which is a narrowing or blockage of one of the three arteries that supply blood to the heart."

Another type of chest pain that usually does not signal heart disease is a sharp pain that becomes worse when you take a deep breath.

"This used to be commonly referred to as "devil's grip," says Dr. Berke.

Chest pain is not the only symptom of heart disease or impending heart attack. Some people experience profound indigestion or excessive nausea and sweating. This is typical when the blockage is located in the coronary artery running along the back surface of the heart.

"Surprisingly, people with diabetes and heart disease often experience no chest discomfort at all," Dr. Berke adds.

During the presentation, Dr. Berke will also address the current question about whether women with heart disease experience different symptoms than men, thus leading to possible misdiagnosis or under treatment.

12 - Lead EKG can save lives

If you or someone you are with is having chest discomfort that may be a heart attack,
call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital. Here in Alameda County, a new aspect of the emergency response system for heart attack has been initiated. The 12-Lead electrocardiogram (EKG) is a machine that records the electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to contract. The 12-Lead EKG enables paramedics to make a consistent heart attack diagnosis in the field and notify the receiving hospital which speeds up treatment and can lead to better outcomes for the patient.

"Paramedics are now better equipped to make a diagnosis in the field using portable fax machines that will transmit electrocardiograms (EKGs) immediately to Washington Hospital and two other hospitals in our county," explain Dr. Berke. "This should lead to faster action and more lives saved."
Alameda County has the largest 12-Lead EKG paramedic program in California and Washington Hospital is a designated facility that has the most comprehensive and advanced heart program in the area. (See information below about the 12-Lead EKG television program currently airing on InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel.)
Diagnosis, treatment and prevention

During the April 18 forum, Dr. Berke will also discuss current approaches to diagnosing heart disease, including the role of stress echocardiograms and thallium stress tests to analyze chest pain. In addition, he'll cover treatment of acute heart disease, such as coronary angioplasty, which opens up arterial blockages using a small, inflatable balloon. Coronary stents, designed to expand and push against the inner wall to keep the artery open, are also used.
No discussion of heart disease would be complete without addressing prevention.

"The tried and true methods of keeping your heart healthy still apply," adds Dr. Berke. "Eat a low-fat diet, exercise regularly, don't smoke and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol within normal limits. If you have diabetes, be sure you are controlling your blood sugar levels."
To help you learn more about how heart disease is diagnosed and treated, Dr. Berke will present a Health and Wellness seminar on Tuesday, April 18, from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue. To register, please call (800) 963-7070. For more information about the upcoming seminar or other classes offered at Washington Hospital, visit, click on "For Our Community" and select "Health Classes & Support Groups" from the drop-down menu.

InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel, will air the original program, Voices InHealth: 12-Lead EKG throughout the month of April. InHealth, Channel 78, is available to Comcast subscribers in Newark, Union City and Fremont. The InHealth program schedule is published weekly in the local Tri-City Voice newspaper and posted on Washington Hospital's Web site at

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