Updated: Feb 28
February is American Heart Month. Did you know that heart disease ranks as the number one cause of death for women in the United States? 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 5.6% of Mexican American women, 5.8% of White women, and 7.6% 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 2018). It is very 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.
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 and feeling a sense of 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, chew it and don’t swallow 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 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
· Problems walking
· 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
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI, 2019), if you or a loved one has a medical history of high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, you are at a higher risk of having heart disease. Also, being overweight, having diabetes or prediabetes, smoking, being physically inactive, and long bouts of uncontrolled stress and anxiety are also risk factors. Women who have a family history of early heart disease should talk to their doctors about their 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 a number of medications available that work well to treat heart disease and high cholesterol. However, all medications have side effects. Making long-term lifestyle changes such as reducing salt intake, increasing physical activity, eating less meat and fatty foods, have proven to be successful lifestyle modifications to decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. If you have a job that is stressful or have an anxiety disorder, try yoga and meditation to help manage stress and anxiety. There are number of free meditation applications that you can try to help manage anxiety.
One of the most important things you can do to protect your heart is to become very familiar with the signs and 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 very important because you can take measures now to prevent having heart-related problems down the road. Finally, exercising regularly, eating a plant-based diet, and including fruit and lots of colorful vegetables are one of the best things you can do to keep your heart working well.
Learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from heart disease by clicking on the links below to view valuable information provided by the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women is national movement to end heart disease and stroke in women.
Be good to your heart and be well!
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
American Heart Association. (January 2019). Heart Attack Symptoms in Women. Retrieved from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack/heart-attack-symptoms-in-women
American Heart Association (February 2019). Heart Attack Tools and Resources. Retrieved from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/heart-attack-tools-and-resources
American Heart Association (February 2019). Preventing Cardiovascular Disease. Retrieved from: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/preventing-cardiovascular-disease
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (August 23, 2017). Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_women_heart.htm
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI, 2019). Heart Disease Risk Factors. Retrieved from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/heart-month/learn-more-about-heart-disease