sponsored by VCU Health
by J. Chevonte’ Alexander
Men and women are not equal…when it comes to heart attacks, at least. ~ Wochit-All
Heart disease is the #1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!
But it doesn’t affect all women alike, and the warning signs for women aren’t the same in men. “There are several misconceptions about heart disease in women, and they could be putting women at risk,” comments Dr. Kyungeh An, Associate Professor for the Department of Adult Health and Nursing Systems at VCU’s School of Nursing.
Heart disease is also the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the United States, including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. For American Indians or Alaska Natives and Asians or Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer.
Here are more unsettling facts:
- 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.
- The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood.
- While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.
Here’s what you need to know about the causes of heart disease and ways you can prevent it.
- In a 2005 survey, most respondents—92%—recognized chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack. Only 27% were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1 when someone was having a heart attack.
- About 47% of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. This suggests that many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.
Heart attacks have several major warning signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors.
“Research suggests African Americans may carry a gene that makes them more salt sensitive, increasing the risk of high blood pressure. But the good news is that most of the risk factors are controllable.” comments Dr. An.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
What causes heart disease?
Heart disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular system. Numerous problems can result from this, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis, a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.
But it doesn’t end there. Heart disease can take many other forms as well:
- Heart failure or congestive heart failure, which means that the heart is still working, but it isn’t pumping blood as well as it should, or getting enough oxygen.
- Arrhythmia or an abnormal rhythm of the heart, which means the heart is either beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. This can affect how well the heart is functioning and whether or not the heart is able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
- Heart valve problems can lead to the heart not opening enough to allow proper blood flow. Sometimes the heart valves don’t close and blood leaks through, or the valve leaflets bulge or prolapse into the upper chamber, causing blood to flow backward through them.
How can I prevent it?
Many things can put you at risk for these problems – ones you can control, and others that you can’t. Here are a few lifestyle changes you should make:
- Manage your blood sugar
- Get your blood pressure under control
- Lower your cholesterol
- Know your family history
- Stay active
- Lose weight
- Eat healthy
It’s Time to Go Red this month!