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What are the classic symptoms of heart disease?
The classic symptoms of heart disease include increasing chest pressure, neck pressure, and worsening shortness of breath on exertion. Other symptoms are less typical such as a squeezing sensation in the chest, neck, or down the side of the arm. Some have sharp pain in their back. Unfortunately, some patients never have a prelude. The first sign of heart disease is a sudden heart attack. Patients often describe their chest pain as intense, break out in a sweat, have shortness of breath, and experience an impending sense of doom.


How do symptoms differ for women?
Women often experience symptoms from heart issues differently than men. Rather than chest pain, they experience pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal area. Women often have shortness of breath, pain in one or both arms, sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and/or unusual fatigue.


How do you evaluate patients?
I use a screening process, which includes a family and individual medical history and a number of tests. Does the patient smoke or have a family history of diabetes? Does the patient have bad cholesterol numbers or high blood pressure? If during screening, two or three risk factors are identified, then the patient is evaluated more carefully. From personal experience, I give family history a great deal of respect. I also rely on calcium scores. There is a tight correlation between calcium and plaque about 97% of the time.


Why is diabetes such a concern?
Diabetes is considered by the American Heart Association to be one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Diabetic adults are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or stroke than the general population. Patients being screened for heart disease, who already have diabetes, do not always present with typical symptoms. They sometimes have neuropathy, which may mask signs of potential heart disease.


How can patients maintain a healthy heart?
A healthy diet and exercise are essential components for a healthy heart. If a patient smokes, quitting is essential. Patients should monitor blood pressure and cholesterol and keep them under control. Diabetics need to be even more diligent with caring for cholesterol and blood pressure. Medications should be used to keep the numbers at acceptable levels. Diet can help with cholesterol levels, but some people need some extra help from medication. Aspirin is helpful in reducing the risk of heart attack in higher risk populations.   

Dr. Cuffe is Board Certified in Cardiovascular Diseases, Nuclear Medicine, and Internal Medicine. He also holds ECFMG Certification. A graduate of University College in Ireland, he earned his medical degree at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Vassar Brothers Medical Center
The Heart Center, a division of Hudson Valley Cardiovascular Practice, P.C. 
939 Little Britain Road
New Windsor, NY 12553
TTY /Accessibility: (800) 421-1220

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Ronald P. Cuffe, MD, FACC
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