Awareness is key to heart disease prevention
But many remain unaware
February 1, 2019
There is some good news in the fight against heart disease. In the last decade, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is down almost 30 percent. Through intense efforts at educating the public, agencies like the American Heart Association with programs like Go Red for Women, have made great strides in spreading the word. Studies show that this education is effective in actually reducing the incidence of heart disease. Even so, certain segments of the population are not getting the message.
Heart disease remains an enormous problem for women in general, and a significantly higher cause of death in black women. Why the difference? Studies indicate that lack of awareness is the major swing factor. In fact, based on their responses to surveys, black and Hispanic women are 66 percent less likely to be aware that heart disease is a leading killer of women.
Making this even more significant is the fact that some risk factors tend to be more common in these minorities. Black women are more prone to hypertension than others. And Hispanic women have greater risk for diabetes mellitus. Both of these are conditions leading to higher likelihood of developing heart disease.
Researchers conducting various studies do admit that while the evidence does point to a lack of awareness among these groups, there are also problems with the data itself. Fewer minority participants in the studies make it difficult to analyze conclusively.
Other factors affecting awareness
Another significant finding is that certain groups of women, regardless of race or ethnicity, also tend to lack knowledge about the common signs of a heart attack. Women with lower levels of income, lower levels of education, and in general, women under 55 years of age tend to be less aware of this important information.
Agencies like the American Heart Association and others that focus on getting the word out are encouraged to learn that awareness makes a difference. That’s why they are heating up efforts to get this information into the hands of women in general, and minority women in particular.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge is power that can save lives.
While there is time, talk over an emergency plan with your spouse or someone close to you. The NIH recommends that you should do the following:
Ask your doctor during a routine visit about your risk for heart attack, and whether he or she recommends that you take an aspirin if symptoms of a heart attack occur.
Make a list of important information and keep it in a handy place, like on your refrigerator. Also tell someone else where the list is. The list should include: medicines you take, and medicines you cannot take due to allergies, and key phone numbers such as your physicians and close family members.
If you suspect you or someone with you is having a heart attack, acting fast can save a life. Ask your physician for written materials describing heart disease symptoms and signs of heart attack. Or log onto nih.gov, and type in “what is a heart attack?”
Heart attack warning signs
The National Institute of Health lists these common signs of a heart attack:
Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. The discomfort usually lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion.
Upper body discomfort. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach (above the belly button).
Shortness of breath. This may be your only symptom, or it may occur before or along with chest pain or discomfort. It can occur when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
And these less common symptoms:
Breaking out in a cold sweat.
Feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days (especially if you are a woman)
Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach) and vomiting.
Light-headedness or sudden dizziness.
Any sudden, new symptoms or a change in the pattern of symptoms you already have (for example, if your symptoms become stronger or last longer than usual).
The NIH goes on to say that heart attacks can occur without presenting any of these signs.
Heart attacks can start slowly and cause only mild pain or discomfort. Symptoms can be mild or more intense and sudden. Symptoms also may come and go over several hours.
People who have high blood sugar (diabetes) may have no symptoms or very mild ones. The most common symptom, in both women and men, is chest pain or discomfort. But women also are somewhat more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual tiredness (sometimes for days), and pain in the back, shoulders and jaw.