WHTF Details Updates and Facts of Cardiovascular Disease
In 2003, the American Heart Association faced a challenge; cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year, yet women were not paying attention. In fact, many even dismissed it as an “older man’s disease.” To dispel these myths of heart disease as the number one killer of women, the American Heart Association, along with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute created National Wear Red Day® to raise awareness of this critical issue.
Each year on the first Friday in February, millions of women and men come together to wear red, take action and commit to fighting this deadly disease. Since the first National Wear Red Day 10 years ago, tremendous strides have been made in the fight against heart disease in women. Twenty-one percent fewer women are dying from heart disease, 23 percent more women are aware that it’s their number one threat and significant gender-specific research has been done to establish guidelines for better prevention and treatment in women.
But the fight is far from over as still hundreds of thousands of women die each year and heart disease is still our number one killer. Sadly, 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. Approximately 42 million U.S. women are affected by heart disease. And, this disease continues to kill more women than men each year at an average rate of one death per minute. It remains vitally important that all women are not only hearing the message, but also understanding the threat that heart disease poses to every life. The more research that has been done, the more that has been learned and thus, providing updates and education can be helpful in promoting awareness.
The first question to ask is how much do you really know about heart health? It’s easy to be misled by incorrect messages. After all, heart disease only happens to elderly neighbors or to a fried food-loving uncle, right? What is the real truth? Heart disease can affect people of any age, even those who eat right. The list below provides clarification to some of the most common myths related to cardiovascular disease.
“I’m too young to worry about heart disease.” How one lives now affects the risk for cardiovascular diseases later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries. One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease but not all of them are senior citizens. Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems – especially now that obesity, type 2 diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at a younger age.
“I’d know if I had high blood pressure because there would be warning signs.” High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because one doesn’t usually know one has it. One may never experience symptoms, so don’t wait for the body to send a message that there’s a problem. The way to know is to check blood pressure numbers with a simple blood pressure test. Early treatment of high blood pressure is critical because, if left untreated, it can cause heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and other serious health problems. High blood pressure associated with pregnancy is also considered a risk factor for heart disease and should be monitored closely on an ongoing basis after the baby is born.
“I’ll know when I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain.” Not necessarily. Although it’s common to have chest pain or discomfort, a heart attack may cause subtle symptoms. These include shortness of breath, nausea, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck or back. Even if not sure it’s a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.
“Diabetes won’t threaten my heart as long as I take my medication.” Treating diabetes can help reduce the risk for or delay the development of cardiovascular diseases. But even when blood sugar levels are under control, there is still increased risk for heart disease and stroke. That’s because the risk factors that contribute to diabetes onset also make it more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. These overlapping risk factors include high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity and smoking. In the most recently published guidelines, gestational diabetes, or diabetes with pregnancy, is included in this risk.
“Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.” Although people with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, take steps to dramatically reduce the risk. Create an action plan to keep the heart healthy by tackling these to-dos: get active, control cholesterol, eat better, manage blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and stop smoking.
“I don’t need to have my cholesterol checked until I’m middle-aged.” The American Heart Association recommends to start getting cholesterol checked at age 20. It’s a good idea to start having a cholesterol test even earlier if there is a family history of heart disease. Children in these families can have high cholesterol levels, putting them at increased risk for developing heart disease as adults.
“Heart failure means the heart stops beating.” The heart suddenly stops beating during cardiac arrest not heart failure. With heart failure, the heart keeps working, but it doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. It can cause shortness of breath, swelling in the feet and ankles or persistent coughing and wheezing. During cardiac arrest, a person loses consciousness and stops normal breathing.
“This pain in my legs must be a sign of aging. I’m sure it has nothing to do with my heart.” Leg pain felt in the muscles could be a sign of a condition called peripheral artery disease, or PAD. PAD results from blocked arteries in the legs caused by plaque buildup. The risk for heart attack or stroke is shown to increase five-fold for people with PAD.
“I know a stroke is different from a heart attack. But, it is not considered as much as an emergency and I can wait to see if the symptoms subside.” A stroke is a brain attack. Emergency treatment that can limit the amount of brain damage must be started quickly. Learn the many warning signs of a stroke. Use acronymFAST: F stands for face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? A stands for arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? S stands for speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange? T stands for time. If you observe any of these signs call 911 immediately.
“My heart is beating really fast. I must be having a heart attack.” Some variation in a heart rate is normal. Heart rates speed up during exercise or when one is excited. It slows down when sleeping. Most of the time, a change in heartbeat is nothing to worry about. But sometimes, it can be a sign of arrhythmia, an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can last long enough to impact how well the heart works and require treatment.
To learn about risks for cardiovascular disease, please join DuBois Regional Medical Center at Day of Dance on Saturday, Feb. 23, at the DuBois Mall from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Health care professionals will be available throughout the event for help with risk assessment and to help with beginning a discussion with one’s personal health care provider.
The Women’s Health Task Force is a small group volunteering their time to educate women and families on important health issues. If you have an interest in health, work in a caring profession, or just want to volunteer with other sincere women, consider attending our monthly planning meetings. These meetings are held the first Thursday of each month beginning at 12 p.m. The next meeting will be held Feb. 7. All interested persons are encouraged to attend. Additional information is available by calling Jana Davidson, Penn State Extension, at 814-765-7878.