Unrecognized heart attacks

In the movies, a heart attack victim often clutches his or her chest, falls to the floor, and dies on the spot. While this certainly can happen, symptoms can vary widely in type and intensity. In fact, up to 37 percent of people who have a heart attack never know it, because they never have symptoms. They find out they've had a heart attack when an electrocardiogram (ECG) is done for another reason.

A symptomless heart attack - often called a silent heart attack - is not harmless, however. A study published in the Sept. 5, 2012, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found people with an unrecognized heart attack had the same risk of dying within five years as those who knew they'd had a heart attack. In both groups, the risk of dying during the five-year study was twice that of people who'd never had a heart attack.

Diagnosing a silent heart attack can be difficult. This study found a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) did a better job than electrocardiography in identifying silent heart attacks, likely because the areas of damage can be small. However, MRI is too expensive to use for routinely assessing people for silent heart attacks.

Until a better, more cost-effective tool is developed, be proactive. If you have had a silent heart attack, or are worried about having one, be as attentive to fighting the artery-clogging process known as atherosclerosis as someone who has had a "noisy" heart attack. That means knowing your risk factors and doing everything you can to reduce your risk.

Help for first-time parents

About 1 in 10 American children ages 2 to 5 is obese. Weight gain at this young age is strongly predictive of obesity in the teen years. So what can first-time parents do to get their kids started on the healthy path?

A study conducted in Australia of 542 parents showed the value of a little education. The new moms and dads were invited to attend six instructional sessions of two hours each, across 15 months. The sessions covered infant nutrition, feeding, physical activity and TV viewing. The control group received only newsletters on subjects that didn't include obesity.

The study found children whose parents attended the tutoring sessions consumed 25 percent fewer sweet snacks and watched 25 percent fewer minutes of TV than the control group, at age 9 months.

The authors note such knowledge-based help for new parents doesn't cost much (for the purposes of the study, the cost was about $508 per family).

The study was published in a recent edition of the journal Pediatrics.