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by Abigail Van Buren

Picture of Health Is Clouded by Cardiovascular Disease

DEAR ABBY: I am writing this in the hope of alerting others to some of the lesser-known symptoms of possible heart problems.

I was a daily runner for 23 years and never thought I would have cardiovascular disease.

For several months as I started my run, I felt a burning sensation in my throat. It kept getting worse, but always went away after about a mile of my three-mile run. I never experienced any chest pains, although toward the end, I did have occasional pain in my upper left arm.

My doctor finally gave me a stress test (treadmill), which showed heart abnormalities.

To summarize: In an 11-month period, I have had angioplasty twice and triple bypass surgery. Some of my arteries were 95 percent blocked although the heart itself was strong.

I'm writing to warn anyone who might be experiencing the burning sensation when engaging in strenuous activity such as jogging, running, mowing their lawn, etc. I had had several EKGs, which did not reveal the artery blockages. Please inform your readers that everyone should have a periodic stress test. You may use my name. -- JOHN A. HARDAWAY, LEAVENWORTH, KAN.

DEAR JOHN: I'm sure there are many people living healthy lifestyles who think they have no need to worry about cardiovascular disease, but you are evidence that a healthy lifestyle may not be enough; screening is also necessary.

According to Dr. Rodman Starke, senior vice president of the American Heart Association, coronary artery disease resulting in heart attack is the single largest killer of American men and women. He said: "Each year, as many as 1.5 million Americans experience a new or recurrent heart attack, and about 500,000 of them die. That is why early diagnosis of coronary artery disease is so important."

Dr. Starke and the American Heart Association urge everyone to learn the warning signs that signal a heart problem: uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back; pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, arms or jaw; chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

Not all the warning signs occur in every patient, but if some begin to occur, get help immediately because the delay could be fatal.

Readers, please don't let John's story be your story. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible about a cardiovascular evaluation, and if you have experienced any of the warning signs, call 911 or your local medical emergency hotline immediately.