There is no escaping the message. You can’t turn on the TV, listen to the radio, surf the web or read a newspaper without hearing about it.
Heart Disease — Who has it? How do you get it? How do you prevent it? New research and findings are being published nearly every day.
The reason for the unprecedented attention is easy to explain, reports Kathleen M. Heintz, DO, clinical cardiologist at the Cooper Heart Institute. “Heart disease gets so much attention for two key reasons. First and foremost, heart disease kills more Americans each year than the next six illnesses combined. And, secondly, because so much of the illness and damage is preventable.”
Heart disease prevention begins with modifying the risk factors. Factors that put you at higher risk for developing cardiac problems include:
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Family history of early development of heart disease.
“Every adult knows that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs, even if they don’t acknowledge it,” says Dr. Heintz. “However, diabetes is a risk factor that surprises many people. People don’t realize that diabetes is a disease that damages blood vessels in the body, including those in the heart. The more poorly controlled the diabetes, the worse the damage.”
Prevention is only part of the equation in treating heart disease, especially in women. For women, the issue is also acknowledging that heart disease is a potential problem, and recognizing the sometimes subtler signs and symptoms. Most women are unaware that:
- Heart and vascular disease kills nearly a half a million women each year.
- Women are six times more likely to die from heart disease than cancer. One in three women will die of heart disease or stroke, compared with one in nine from breast cancer.
- 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease had no previous symptoms.
However, the most striking number in these statistics is 13. Only 13 percent of women view heart disease as a health threat, even though it is the number one killer of women.
“These numbers show that we have not done a very good job educating women,” says Dr. Heintz. “Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Research shows that the lack of understanding related to women and heart disease is a potential danger for women because the symptoms they have are often not associated with heart attacks. Although the most common presentation in women is chest pain, many women also experience extreme fatigue; indigestion; chest tightness; shortness of breath; or pain referred to the jaw, arm, or shoulder. These non-traditional symptoms are often initially dismissed, putting the woman at further risk for heart damage. And, these symptoms may develop over a period of time.
“Ideally, we would like to assist women in preventing heart disease, or at least slow the progression of disease”, says Dr. Heintz. “The earlier we can intervene, the better the outcome.”
The good news for both men and women is that much can be done to prevent or slow the progression of heart disease, reports Dr. Heintz. “You can’t change your family history, but you can benefit greatly by modifying other risks, like managing high blood pressure and diabetes, getting exercise, not smoking and eating a healthier diet.”