February is American Heart Month. This is a month to reflect on heart health and the prevention of heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. Thankfully, heart disease is often times preventable by making healthy choices and managing health conditions. We can all work together as a community to create opportunities for people to make healthier choices.
The Unsettling Facts
- Women are less likely to call 9-1-1 when experiencing symptoms of a heart attack themselves.
- Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year. That’s one woman every minute.
- 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
- More women than men die 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.
It’s time to focus on the solution. This is what you need to know about the causes of heart disease and ways you can prevent it.
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.
Know the risks
Understanding your risk factors and making healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way in preventing heart disease. Here are some changes you can make to reduce your risk:
- Quit smoking
- Manage your blood sugar
- Get your blood pressure under control
- Lower your cholesterol
- Know your family history
- Stay active and exercise
- Lose weight
- Eat a healthy diet
Recognize the symptoms
The symptoms of heart disease and heart attack can be different in women than in men, and women are more likely than men to have a heart attack without experiencing chest pain.
According to the American Heart Association, the following are common symptoms of heart attack in women:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
- Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or lightheadedness
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, don’t wait. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately.
Johnston Health’s Smithfield and Clayton facilities have received Chest Pain Accreditation from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care. Learn more.
Little Hats, Big Hearts, Red Hats for Babies
Volunteers for the American Heart Association are celebrating American Heart Month by knitting and crocheting red hats for all newborns at Johnston Health in Smithfield and Clayton. On Feb. 5, National Wear Red Day, the hospitals are participating in the Association’s Little Hats, Big Heart program, which raises awareness of heart disease, the number one killer of Americans, and congenital heart defects, the most common type of birth defect in the country. The Little Hats, Big Hearts program provides hats to newborn babies in 35 states across the country. Amber Newcomb (pictured left), clinical coordinator for women’s services at Johnston Health, slips one of the hats on an infant born this week in the Women’s Pavilion.