American Heart Month – What You Need to Know About Heart Disease

American Heart Month – What You Need to Know About Heart Disease

It’s another year and the number one killer in America for both men and women is still heart disease (includes coronary heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases).  About one in four women AND one in four men die from heart disease.  In the U.S. someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds.

Coronary Heart Disease in Men versus Women

Coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, is caused by plaque that builds up in the arteries which supplies oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.  A blockage can cause chest pain and heart attack.  There are differences in the type of plaque buildup between women and men.  In women, the buildup lines the walls of the blood vessels uniformly – like the inside of a straw getting more narrow because the wall is thickening.  In men, the plaque buildup can be more concentrated in one area as if the straw is pinched.  When someone thinks they are having a heart attack and goes to the emergency room, the hospital often inserts a dye into the bloodstream to enable doctors to see blockages of the artery.   In men, these blockages show well, but they do not show up well in women.  Recently research is being conducted separately on men and women whereas it used to be primarily conducted on men.

Symptoms in Men versus Women

There are differences in symptoms for men versus women.  And, these differences may put women at a much higher risk for heart serious outcomes.  Many women report symptoms occurring as much as month before a heart attack, but they don’t realize the symptoms are related to heart disease and often don’t report them to their physician.  According to research from the University of Rochester, men are five times more likely than women to recognize their symptoms as being related to their heart.

What symptoms are the common for both and what are different symptoms?

Symptoms Common in both Men and Women:

  • Chest pain (angina) is the most common symptom in heart disease.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual Fatigue
  • Indigestion

Symptoms Common in Men:

  • Chest pains can feel like pressure or squeezing in the chest, often on the right side; this feeling may extend to the arms.
  • Chest pains tend to worsen with physical activity and go away with rest.
  • Dull ache.
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Cold sweat

Symptoms in Women:

  • Chest pains tend to feel more like a sharp, burning chest pain, not the squeezing of the chest like men
  • Often pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back.
  • Chest pains during routine daily activities, like shopping or cooking, rather than while exercising.
  • Chest pains while resting or sleeping
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Anxiety
  • Mental stress that triggers angina pain
  • Vomiting
  • Throat discomfort

How to Lower Heart Disease Risk

We hear about the ways to reduce the risk of heart disease all the time.

  • #1 risk factor for heart disease is age. We need to keep our seniors as safe as possible
  • #2 is a person’s genetic makeup. If one has a family history of heart disease they must be extremely vigilant
  • Do not smoke or be near second-hand smoke
  • Healthy blood pressure – hypertension (high blood pressure) greatly increase the risk
  • Manage cholesterol – low LDL and Tri-glycerides and high HDL
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise daily – studies show that walking two miles each day is optimal and doesn’t have to be done all at once
  • Heart-healthy eating and limiting calories (fat free/low fat dairy, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, legumes (kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas), vegetables, whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice), avocados, nuts, natural peanut butter, good oils: olive, canola, peanut, safflower, sesame
  • Avoid: Palm or coconut oil, high glycemic foods (sugar/corn syrup, starches, soft drinks); saturated fats found mostly in foods from animals; trans fats found in margarine, coffee creamers, baked foods: cookies, crackers, cakes, frosting
  • Limit alcohol per day to one drink per day for women and two for men. 12  ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor
  • Manage stress, particularly anger
  • Medicines: See your doctor regularly, take your prescribed medicines, check with your doctor and pharmacist to ensure your medications are not creating negative drug interactions.

Never ignore possible symptoms of a heart attack.  Not all of these symptoms happen during a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends that if you think you have any of them, call 911 immediately.  Time is of the essence.