We all know that heart attacks are the worst possible outcome for heart disease patients. But there are many things related to coronary heart disease that people don't know. One is that coronary heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. It accounted for about 1.2 million coronary attacks in 2009. Another is that women are just as likely to be heart attack victims as men. And too many people also don't know the symptoms of heart disease or how to prevent a heart attack.
The good news is, Americans can fight back by taking control of their lifestyles with exercise, healthier eating and by avoiding tobacco.
February is Heart Month, and Friday, February 5th, was National Wear Red Day, a symbolic gesture urging women in particular to take heart disease more seriously.
"Women are very in tune with breast cancer and other risk factors to their health, but when you get in a group and ask for a show of hands, very few of them realize that heart disease is a much greater risk for them," said Robin Dennison, a registered nurse and nurse manager of a unit that provides care for heart patients at Owensboro Medical Health System.
"Women are very good at advocating for people around them, like if their spouse or family member is experiencing a symptom, they'll be the first one to encourage someone to go to the emergency room for treatment, but they're not as aggressive seeking treatment for themselves," Dennison said.
Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, obesity, lack of physical exercise and diabetes. Classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pressure or squeezing pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back; pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; nausea; and sweating. "The trick is, not everyone fits in that cookbook description, especially women," Dennison said. "Women's symptoms can include more of a heartburn-type pain, or pain that goes to the back, upper stomach pain, dizziness." She said sometimes women might "write off" back pain or heartburn as insignificant when it could be a warning sign. "If you have those signs, call 911," Dennison said. "That's where you get into a time factor. Getting treatment as early as possible is critical. People worry that maybe they've just got indigestion, but nobody will laugh at you. We like false alarms." The risk for heart disease begins rising around age 40. Dennison suggested that people see their primary care physician to discuss their health history and any symptoms they made have had. Dennison said people may not be able to tackle all risk factors at once, but they should target attainable goals. For example, an exercise program figures to have a positive effect on blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. Exercise and a healthier diet can help reduce weight. Quitting smoking can help the lungs "repair" themselves, Dennison said. "That's one organ that can heal itself and improve after a week or two of quitting smoking," she said.