I’m not a big fan of designating specific months to promote awareness of specific diseases — after all, disease management and prevention is important year ’round — but it does serve the purpose of making some noise about key health issues.
February is Heart Month; the American Heart Association , CDC, and other groups have ramped up the volume on heart health, disease awareness, and warning signs — an especially important message for women.
Many women in the U.S. still don’t realize that heart disease is their number one killer . Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States.
Women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men are. Women are also more likely to experience delays in emergency care and to have treatment to control their cholesterol levels, according to the CDC.
Often, women have no outward signs of heart disease. Almost two-thirds (64%) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Others may describe chest pain that is sharp and burning and more often have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back. Sometimes heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until a woman has signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), or stroke.
Black women are at highest risk of dying early from heart disease and stroke (78 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), followed by American Indian/Alaska Native (46 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), White (36 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), Hispanic (30 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), and Asian/Pacific Islander women (22 preventable deaths per 100,000 people).
Key risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking. About half of Americans (49%) have at least one of these three risk factors.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
A woman suffers a heart attack about every 90 seconds in the United States. If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you seek help quickly, treatment can save your life and prevent permanent damage to your heart muscle. Treatment works best if given within 1 hour of when symptoms begin.
Remember that the Affordable Care Act requires coverage of preventive care including blood pressure and cholesterol screening, obesity counseling, tobacco cessation counseling and diabetes screening for adults with high blood pressure — without a deductible or copay. Take advantage of annual well visits, get checked, exercise, and enjoy a balanced diet.