Did you know that heart disease is still the leading cause of death for men in the United States? To make matters worse, heart disease disproportionately impacts African-American and Hispanic males at a higher rate than white men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 6% of Hispanic men and 7.1% of African-American men have coronary heart disease (CDC 2021). Furthermore, almost half of the men who died suddenly from heart disease did not exhibit any warning signs or previous heart-related symptoms.
The American Heart Association reports heart disease kills more than 100,000 African-Americans each year (AHA 2020). Unfortunately, the AHA also reports most people are unaware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack (AHA 2020). 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 like 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 right under the tongue, which can help with allowing the aspirin to enter the blood stream quicker.
Warning signs of a stroke:
Getting a sudden or severe headache, which feels 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
Having high blood pressure is a major risk factor 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 serious heart-related conditions. Thankfully, there are several medications available to treat heart disease and high cholesterol. However, all medications have side effects. Making long-term dietary and lifestyle changes that include reducing salt, increasing physical activity, eating less red meat and fatty foods have 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 familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack and stroke. More importantly, make sure you schedule an annual physical exam with your primary care doctor, to determine 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, regular exercise and eating a plant-based diet, and including fruit and many colorful vegetables are one 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 resources provided below.
Heart Healthy Living - Heart-Healthy Living - What Is Heart-Healthy Living? | NHLBI, NIH
Keep High Blood Pressure Under Control - Keep High Blood Pressure Under Control | NHLBI, NIH
American Heart Association. (2022). African Americans and Heart Disease, Stroke. Retrieved from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/african-americans-and-heart-disease-stroke
American Heart Association. (2020). Heart Disease Risk Profiles differ Widely among African Americans, Blacks from the Caribbean and African Immigrants.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). Men and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/men.htm
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 the NIH).