Tim Russert’s Heart Attack – What Went Wrong?

by Paul Rogers on June 26, 2008

According to a New York Times article, Tim Russert, the well-known NBC news and current affairs television journalist who suffered a fatal heart attack, did not have any prior warning even though he did have some ominous signs in his cardiovascular risk profile.

The essence of many articles about Tim Russert since his death have emphasized his compliance with doctors’ recommendation and prescription — exercise, lower cholesterol, lose weight, healthy diet and so on. How could someone, presumably doing the right things, still have a fatal heart attack?

The New York Times article points out that even allowing for these positive things, he was quite overweight and had low high-density cholesterol and high blood triglycerides. This constellation of measures is known to some practitioners as the “metabolic syndrome”, although not all recognize this term or if it is a syndrome at all. Either way, it means greater risk of a heart attack.

Waist Circumference and BMI

It’s risky business when you’re over 40 and have these markers of cardiovascular risk. And there are no guarantees that technology can reduce your risk to zero. Even people with very low risk markers still fall over dead with sudden heart attacks. It’s all about numbers, percentages and how you improve your chances.

Getting that waist to below 38 inches or 95 centimetres for men, and 32 inches or 80 centimetres for women, is a good place to start. Alternatively, a waist to hip ratio of 0.9 for men and 0.8 for women, or less, is also a good guide to healthy weight. Divide your hip measurement at the widest by your waist measurement at the narrowest, usually around the naval.

The body mass index (BMI) scale is less useful because it gets distorted for relevance by how much muscle you carry. Bodybuilders, weightlifters and athletes are often unfairly placed in the overweight categories, which are at BMI 26 or more. BMI can be measured by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared.

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