Did you know that heart disease ranked as the number one cause of death before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S? To make matters worse, heart disease disproportionately affects African-American women at a higher rate than Caucasian women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 6% of Mexican American women, 6.1% of white women, and 6.5% of African-American women have coronary heart disease (CDC 2017). Furthermore, almost two-thirds or 64% of women who did die suddenly from heart disease did not exhibit any warning signs, nor had previous symptoms.
The American Heart Association reports heart disease kills nearly 50,000 African-American women each year (AHA 2019). It is startling to learn the AHA reports most women are unaware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack (AHA 2019). It is especially important to understand the warning signs of a heart attack can be very different for women and men. Recognizing the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke can save your life or someone else’s. So, let’s get familiar with the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke.
Warning signs of a heart attack:
A feeling of uncomfortable pressure in the center of your chest
Squeezing-like sensations in the center of your chest (this feeling can last for a few minutes, go away, and come back)
Pain or numbness in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Sudden or frequent shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness
Feeling extreme fatigue like you want to take a nap
Shortness of breath, sudden or unexplained jaw pain, nausea, and vomiting, which may feel similar to indigestion
If you or a loved one experiences any of these signs or symptoms, it is important to first call 911. Then, get a baby aspirin and chew it. If possible, put the broken aspirin under the tongue, which can help with allowing the aspirin to enter the blood stream quicker.
Warning signs of a possible stroke:
Getting a sudden or severe headache, which feels very different from any headache you have had in the past
Confusion, having trouble speaking, or having problems understanding what someone else is saying
Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, which may be present on one side
Having difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
Loss of consciousness
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms for you or someone else, dial 911 immediately. The quicker you or someone else gets help, can be the difference between life and death.
Risk Factors for heart disease and stroke
If you or a loved one has a medical history of high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, you may be at a higher risk of having heart disease. Also, being overweight, having diabetes, prediabetes, smoking, and being physically inactive are also risk factors. Having heart disease can increase the chances that your condition will get worse and possibly cause a heart attack, stroke, or other heart conditions. Thankfully, there are several medications available to treat heart disease and high cholesterol. However, all medications have side effects. Making long-term lifestyle changes that includes reducing salt, increasing physical activity, eating less red meat and fatty foods have also proven to be successful modifications to decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
One of the most important things you can do to protect your heart is to become very familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack and stroke. More importantly, make sure you have a discussion with your primary care doctor if you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, or heart attacks. Knowing your family history is important because you can take measures early in life to prevent having heart-related problems down the road. Finally, exercising regularly, eating a plant-based diet, and including fruit and many colorful vegetables are some of the best things you can do to keep your heart working well.
Remember, heart disease is preventable! Learn how you can protect your heart with some of the heart disease resources provided below. Get moving and take action to protect your hearth and the heart of those you love.
Heart Disease Resources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (January 2020). Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm
American Heart Association. (2018). Heart Disease and African-American Women. Retrieved from: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts/heart-disease-in-african-american-women#:~:text=Cardiovascular%20diseases%20kill%20nearly%2050%2C000,symptoms%20of%20a%20heart%20attack
American Heart Association. (2019). Heart Attack Symptoms in Women.
Disclosure: (I am a writer and editor for the National Institutes of Health. Information contained in this blog post are not associated with my role at NIH).