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Tim Russert Dies of a Heart Attack

Russert, 58, Died at Work, Says NBC News
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 13, 2008 -- Tim Russert, the 58-year-old host of NBC's Meet the Press and NBC's Washington, D.C., bureau chief, died Friday of a sudden heart attack.

NBC News reports that Russert collapsed at work. After an autopsy, Russert's doctor, Michael Newman, MD, said cholesterol plaque ruptured in an artery, causing the heart attack. Newman also said the autopsy showed an enlarged heart.

(Leave your comments about Tim Russert on WebMD's News Watch blog.)

Various media reports are saying attempts were made at resuscitation at a nearby hospital, to no avail.

Russert had recently returned from vacation in Italy.

The symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Crushing, squeezing, or burning pain, pressure, or fullness in the center of the chest. The pain may radiate to the neck, one or both arms, the shoulders, or the jaw. The chest discomfort lasts more than a few minutes. It can diminish in intensity and return.
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness
  • Nausea, heartburn, or upset stomach
  • Sweating or feeling "the chills"
  • A weak, fast pulse
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Cold, clammy skin, or a gray color to the face
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Fatigue

When a heart attack strikes, people may not feel all of these symptoms. Some experience no symptoms -- this is called silent ischemia.

Women often have different symptoms of a heart attack than men. They may not experience chest pain but may have other symptoms, such as pain high in the abdomen or chest, or pain in the jaw, back, or neck.

These symptoms don't always indicate a heart attack, but don't wait to see if they pass. Call 911 immediately if you or someone else develops the possible warning signs of a heart attack.

Cardiologist's View

WebMD spoke with Douglas Zipes, MD, past president of the American College of Cardiology and distinguished professor of medicine at Indiana University, about Russert's death. Zipes isn't one of Russert's doctors.

How common is it for someone at his age to suffer a fatal heart attack?

It's very common. First of all, we need to be careful about terms. What he had was sudden cardiac arrest. Now, whether it was due to a heart attack or not is unestablished. But more likely than not, it's due to this abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. That's when the bottom chamber [of the heart] beats at 400-600 times per minute, has no effective blood flow to the brain, you black out, and then, unless it's reversed, you die in three to five or seven minutes or so. This is the rhythm that's treated with an external defibrillator, and had one been available and used, it's certainly possible that he could have been resuscitated.

Now, ventricular fibrillation may be caused by a heart attack; it doesn't have to be. The likely scenario in a 58-year-old, slightly obese male is a coronary thrombosis -- an obstruction of a coronary artery -- that triggers the ventricular fibrillation and causes the sudden death.

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