John Hughes' Heart Attack May Have Had No Warning

A heart attack is often the first symptom of heart disease.

ByABC News
August 7, 2009, 5:42 PM

Aug. 8, 2009 — -- A sudden heart attack Thursday claimed the life of writer and director John Hughes, whose iconic, teen-driven films included "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "The Breakfast Club" and "Some Kind of Wonderful," and launched the careers of "Brat Pack" members such as Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez.

Hughes, 59, had been in Manhattan visiting family when he had the fatal heart attack during a morning walk, according to family spokeswoman Michelle Bega.

More than 1 million cases of new and recurrent heart attacks occur each year in the U.S. and they are responsible for one out of every five deaths, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Unfortunately, heart attacks in real life are not always as dramatically heart-clutching as they are in the movies. For many, a heart attack may be the first sign that they have heart problems.

"The problem with sudden cardiac death is that, of all the people that have heart disease ... half of the time the first symptom is a heart attack," said Dr. Stephen Kopecky, professor of medicine and a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "And half of that, half will [die] within an hour."

These cases lack any of the classic warning signs of a heart attack, such as chest pains, shortness of breath or nausea, which can signal a problem that needs medical attention.

"You never even get a chance to go back and re-do or correct the risk factors," said Dr. Clyde Yancy, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. "That means that the time to [control them] is not during the first episode of shortness of breath or chest discomfort, it's now."

Bega said no information about Hughes' medical history is being released at this time, but according to the American Heart Association, the most important risk factors for developing heart disease, which could lead to a heart attack, include smoking, a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes.

The biggest danger posed by these and other risk factors -- there are more than 200 known risk factors for heart disease -- is damage to the lining in blood vessels.