An autopsy has confirmed that actor James Gandolfini died of a heart attack on June 19 at the age of 51. Family, friends and fans across the country were shocked by the news, and it caused many people to start thinking about their own heart health.

Michael Chen, M.D., interventional cardiologist at Washington Adventist and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals, spoke with WTOP radio about the importance of knowing your risk for heart disease:

“We recommend if you have a family history of heart disease, that males around the age of 45 and women around the age of 55 come in a see a cardiologist,” says Dr. Chen. “Your cardiologist will assess your risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and risk for diabetes.”

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It’s important to discuss your risk for heart disease and a heart attack with your doctor.

Even if you have no family history, but know that one or more of those risk factors is high for you, it’s important to discuss your risk for heart disease and a heart attack with your doctor.

What’s one thing you could start doing today to minimize your risk? “Exercise,” says Dr. Chen. “Exercise is crucial to your heart health. I tell all my patients to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week to get their heart rate up. Exercise helps your heart but also helps control all the risk factors for heart disease.”

In addition, Dr. Chen says if you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms of a heart attack to call 9-1-1 immediately and get to the hospital. “Calling 9-1-1 is the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment,” says Dr. Chen.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack you should know:

  • Chest discomfort that can include pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain for more than a few minutes, or goes away and returns
  • Discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

You may experience mild symptoms, but it’s important to act on them immediately by calling 9-1-1. For 50% of people experiencing mild symptoms, the heart attack can be prevented with early treatment before any damage to the heart occurs. Mild chest symptoms can also include pressure, burning, aching or tightness that may come and go until finally becoming constant and severe. Learn more at

Do you know your heart age and risk for heart disease? Take our FREE heart health risk assessment here. Print out your results to discuss with your doctor.