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East County News Service

February 14, 2016 (San Diego) -- It is the leading cause of death in the nation, but not in San Diego.

In the United States, about 610,000 people die of heart disease every year (one of every four deaths) and another 130,000 die because of stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Locally, heart disease fatalities have dropped in the past few years and are now the second leading cause of death in the region. Stroke deaths have also experienced a slight decline.

In 2013, a total of 4,831 people died from diseases of the heart and another 1,114 from stroke, the fifth leading cause of death in San Diego.

“High blood pressure and cholesterol levels and diabetes increase a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “You can help prevent these and other chronic diseases by eating healthy, exercising on a regular basis, and managing any medical conditions you may have.”

In San Diego County, there are three behaviors—poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and tobacco and substance abuse—that lead to four chronic diseases—cancer, heart disease and stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and lung disease. Combined, these diseases cause more than 50 percent of deaths in the region. This relationship forms the 3-4-50 principle that helps drive the County’s Live Well San Diego vision, which aims to improve the health of local residents.

RELATED: San Diego’s Number One Killer

So what are the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke and what should you do if you or someone you know is experiencing them?

“When it comes to a heart attack and stroke, every second counts,” Wooten added. “People should call 9-1-1 immediately. It can be a matter of life or death.”

Signs of a Heart Attack

Some of the warning signs of a heart attack include:

Chest discomfort

  • In most cases, discomfort occurs in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
  • Discomfort could go away and come back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

Discomfort in other upper-body areas

  • Symptoms of a heart attack can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Other heart attack signs

  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

In addition to learning the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, it is important to also learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a lifesaving technique used when someone's breathing or heartbeat has stopped. Follow these guidelines to learn about CPR and help you know when to call 9-1-1.

Signs of a Stroke

  • If you, or someone near you, is having a stroke (also referred to as a “brain attack”), it is extremely important that you act F.A.S.T. and call 9-1-1 immediately. F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke and stands for:
  • FACE: Is a side of the face droopy or is it numb? Is the smile uneven?
  • ARM & LEG: Is there weakness, numbness, difficulty walking?
  • SPEECH: Is there slurred speech? Does the person have difficulty speaking?
  • TIME: Time is critical. If you notice any of these symptoms call 9-1-1 immediately.

“Knowing the risks and signs of a stroke can make the difference between life and death,” Wooten concluded.

If an effort to get San Diegans to take charge of their heart health, the County and its many partners sponsor Love Your Heart, a one-day event that offers free blood pressure screenings to get the public to “know their numbers.” Love Your Heart takes will take place Thursday, February 11, at select sites throughout the region.

For more information about heart disease and stroke, visit the American Heart Association or CDC websites.

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Enjoy hamburgers and fries?

Then expect to not enjoy a heart attack, when all those fatty deposits in your arteries, along with blood clots, plug up a blood vessel in your heart and put you down. Every second counts? It's better to become vegetarian and avoid all that.