NEW YORK — Tim Russert was a good patient, taking medications for his heart disease and exercising, his doctor said. He had no chest pains, and he passed an exercise stress test weeks ago. Yet at 58, he suffered a heart attack and died.
That's not uncommon, say cardiologists. Heart disease patients can significantly reduce their chances of a heart attack, but they can't totally prevent it, said Dr. Howard Hodis of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
Experts say that shouldn't discourage heart patients from doing everything they can to lower their risks of a heart attack: control blood pressure and cholesterol, quit smoking, lose weight, change their diet, exercise and reduce stress.
"If you have heart disease, does it mean that it's all over? No. But it really means that you have to pay attention," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, had a heart attack Friday in Washington while recording voiceovers for the news program.
His physician, Dr. Michael A. Newman, said in a statement that Russert had hardening of the arteries but no symptoms, and his blood pressure and cholesterol were well controlled. Russert exercised on a treadmill regularly, including the morning that he died.
Despite advances in preventing and treating heart disease, experts say there's no easy way to know which patients are going to have a heart attack and which aren't.