According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cardiovascular disease (Heart Disease) is the leading killer of women in America, accounting for over one-third of all deaths. That’s more than the combined death rates from breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers. CDC also suggests that 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease (CDC.gov).
February is Heart Disease Awareness Month, Mama Salone takes this opportunity to raise much needed awareness and attention to cardiovascular disease among women in our community, specifically, heart attacks and strokes.
The heart is the strongest and hardest working muscle in our body; it starts beating from the earliest stages of conception, and it beats an average of 100,000 times per day. Through blood vessels called arteries, oxygen-rich blood flows from the left side of the heart to all parts of the body; through this process, blood also flows back to the right side of the heart through vessels that expand to allow the flow. This network of supply of blood between the heart and the rest of the body is called the cardiovascular system.
Despite its toughness and hard work, the heart is also very fragile and can be damaged easily through risk factors such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension) smoking, excess weight, poor nutrition, drug use (including prolong use of over-the counter NSAIDS, sleep aid, etc.,) lack of physical exercise, poor stress management, genetic predisposition, diabetes, etc.
These risk factors disrupt the cardiovascular system of blood supply to the heart by blocking the blood vessels called coronary arteries; this blockage, called hardening of the arteries, is caused by fat, cholesterol and plaque buildup. It is the most common cause of heart attacks.
In this same process of blood supply to all parts of the body, disruption could also occur in blood supply to the brain. In this case, blood flow is either blocked from reaching the brain, causing ischaemic stroke or a blood vessel could break, causing haemorragic stroke or brain aneurism.
In addition to being caused by the same risk factors as heart attacks, strokes could also be caused by heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, a major symptom of this is usually frequent heart beat or the heart beating too fast for an unusual length of time; the heart is being overworked.
Attention to Symptoms in Women
Before most heart attacks that claim the lives of women, symptoms manifest for a period of time. However, these symptoms are not taken seriously, including,
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
Most often, these signs are either dismissed or taken for other less serious illnesses. In addition to these common symptoms, here are others we must also pay attention to,
- Unusual fatigue — Fatigue is a common complaint and one that may indicate that you’re simply missing out on sleep, fighting a virus, overextending yourself, or experiencing a side effect to medication. But unusual or extreme fatigue may also be an early heart attack symptom or a warning sign of heart disease.
In one study, more than 70% of the women surveyed experienced marked fatigue in the days or weeks prior to their heart attacks.
- Sleep disturbances — Although it’s not unusual to feel tired due to a lack of sleep or a particularly demanding week or month, you should take special notice of any unusual or prolonged disturbance in your sleep patterns. A recent study revealed that almost half of the women who had recently suffered a heart attack also experienced sleep disturbances in the days or weeks leading up to their attacks.
- Shortness of breath during normal daily activities, indigestion, and anxiety may also be early heart attack signs or symptoms of cardiac distress in women.
Recognizing Your Symptoms
“Know yourself is good advise,” as we say in Salone. We know our own body better than anyone else; therefore, we will be the first to know when symptoms are not typical or normal. We should seek immediate medical help if we feel anything out of the ordinary; sometime we are so focused on the things we are doing, work, family, etc., that we often just take those PM pain pills to mask our discomfort. This is a dangerous practice that harms us in the end.
We should also know that having high blood pressure or any of the other risk factors listed above puts us at higher risk of strokes and heart attacks; therefore, those of us who suffer any of those conditions should be fully engaged in monitoring symptoms and be more than familiar with the above warning signs. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, we should either consult our healthcare providers immediately or CALL 911; either way, TAKE ACTION WITHOUT DELAY!
Understanding our bodies and learning more about these symptoms can save many lives; we should not wait for heart attack or stroke to be our first symptom! There are many resources out there on how we can reduce our risk factors; it behooves us to explore them, learn and apply their good suggestions.
Remember, for heart attacks and strokes, age is only a number! Being young does not preclude any of us from these killers; we are never too young to start taking this seriously; we are all at risk, regardless of age.
The aim of this article is to awaken women and create awareness of this problem. For information on how to reduce our risk factors, treatments and many more, please visit these Resources: