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Chew on This: No vacation from heart trouble

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 24, 2014 at 3:45 pm •  Published: February 24, 2014

(For use by New York Times News Service clients)

c.2014 San Antonio Express-News

Chew on This: No vacation for heart trouble

By Richard A. Marini

You go on vacation, shouldn't your diet be able to take a little holiday, too?

Well, to a point. But for those with any number of cardiovascular risk factors -- diabetes, being overweight or obese, high blood pressure -- a holiday may be a heart attack waiting to happen. In fact, heart attacks account for half of all deaths of Americans abroad.

The risk was brought to light this past summer when actor James Gandolfini was felled by an attack while vacationing in Italy with his family.

"Holiday stress is a well-known heart attack trigger," said Dr. Steven R. Bailey, chief of the cardiology department at the University of Texas Medical School here.

Heart attacks are usually the result of coronary artery disease, which is caused by a buildup of fatty plaque along the inside of the arteries to the heart. When an area of plaque ruptures, it can trigger a blood clot that leads to a heart attack.

"You're on vacation, eating and drinking with family and friends, staying out late," he said. "Maybe you forget to take medication. That can all increase your risk, especially for someone who is already at risk."

The stresses of modern-day travel (can you say "flight delay"?), temperature extremes and unusual physical activity ("Sure, I'll hike to the waterfall with you") may also spell trouble for travelers who are out of shape and overweight.

Even if the body sends you warning signs, most people are likely to ignore them and instead order otra margarita, por favor.

"Most people think a heart attack feels like you've got an elephant sitting on your chest," said Bailey. "Sometimes it does, but sometimes it just feels like a bad case of indigestion."

And since nobody wants to go to the ER for a tummy ache -- especially while in a foreign country -- they'll likely ignore the pain until it goes away.

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