Get Smart About Your Heart

Since February is American Heart Month, it’s a great time to
share some important information about heart disease. Often,
people think of heart disease as a man’s problem. However, the
statistics on women and heart disease are sobering. Heart disease
is the No. 1 killer of women. Each year, cardiovascular diseases
claim the lives of nearly half a million American women — that’s
almost one per minute. Heart disease accounts for a third of all
deaths in women. Heart attacks kill six times as many women as
breast cancer.

Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from
heart disease. And 42 percent of women who have heart attacks
die within one year, compared to 24 percent of men. The gap
between men and women’s survival continues to widen.
One reason is most women experience early warning signs of a
heart attack with sudden onset of extreme weakness that feels like
the flu — often with no chest pain at all. Medical professionals are
challenged to respond to women’s milder symptoms. Women wait
longer than men to go to an emergency room when having a heart
attack and physicians are slower to recognize the presence of heart
attacks in women because the characteristic patterns of chest pain
and EKG changes are less frequently present.

The good news among these grim facts is that women’s hearts
respond better to lifestyle changes than men’s hearts. And we
know what lifestyle changes to make: maintain a healthy weight,
exercise, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well
as reducing stress, cholesterol and foods high in saturated
or trans-fats. Following this advice will improve the
health of men and women across the board.
Research has shown that during a
heart attack, receiving medical
treatment sooner means less damage to the heart and other
organs. The American College of Cardiology and the American
Heart Association have set a national goal that heart attack
patients entering the emergency room would have blood vessel
blockages opened within 90 minutes.
In an emergency, seconds count, so call 9-1-1 at the first signs
of a heart attack.

Warning signs of a heart attack include:
– Chest discomfort, including uncomfortable pressure,
squeezing, fullness or pain.
– Discomfort or pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw
or stomach.
– Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
– Other signs such as cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
February is the perfect time to get smart about your heart and
reduce your risk of heart disease.

Written by Lawrence Whaley, M.D.,
Internal Medicine & Pediatrics of Burleson