No matter how healthy you look on the outside, being aware of what’s going on inside your body is a must. No disease claims more lives in the United States than heart disease—600,000 deaths each year, or about one in four people. What’s more, each year about 935,000 Americans have a heart attack. Being heart smart can dramatically improve your chances of living a longer, healthier life. Here’s what you need to know.
Heart Disease Affects Women as Well as Men
Most people think of heart disease as a man’s health issue, but it’s also the leading cause of death among women. In fact, current statistics are even more alarming for women. According to the American Heart Association, the rate of heart disease among men has fallen steadily over the past 25 years, but the rate among women is not declining at nearly as rapid a rate.
Know Your Risk Factors
Though men do have a slightly higher overall chance of developing heart disease than women do, many individual risk factors are the same for both sexes. Some are out of your control, such as your age, a family history of heart disease, and being of a race or ethnicity with a higher risk than other ethnic groups. That makes it all the more important to minimize the risk factors that are within your control. These include:
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure levels
- Overweight or obesity
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Poor diet
- High stress levels
Know the Signs of a Heart Attack
If you should experience a heart attack, knowing the signs and calling 911 immediately could save your life. Some of the signs differ between men and women, with those in women sometimes being more subtle or seemingly unconnected to a heart emergency. Be aware of all these signs and symptoms and seek emergency medical help right away:
- Discomfort in the center of your chest that feels like pressure, squeezing, or pain; the sensation lasts for a few minutes or may come and go.
- Discomfort in the neck, jaw, back, stomach or arms, as well as the chest or instead of the chest
- Nausea or experiencing lightheadedness
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Shortness of breath
Even if you’re not sure you’re having a heart attack, it’s better to err on the side of caution and call for help.
Heart Disease Treatment Is Effective
Specific treatment depends on the type of heart condition you have, such as coronary artery disease or an irregular heartbeat like an arrhythmia. Medication or a medical procedure, such as surgery, or both, may be required. Part of your plan will most likely include important lifestyle changes such as improved diet, increased activity levels, and weight loss—healthy steps that will make you look and feel better and be more able to enjoy life.
- Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, both men and women.
- Protect yourself against the heart disease risk factors that you can control, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, and excess weight.
- Learn the signs of a heart attack, which can be subtle and different in men and women.
- Heart disease treatment works, but you have to follow it. Work with your doctor to identify any heart conditions and stick with your treatment plan.
This article is part of a series of heart health articles produced for the Healthgrades Pledge for Heart Health campaign. The Pledge for Heart Health campaign is a Facebook application that asks people to virtually pledge that they’ll talk to their doctor about heart health. For each pledge received in the month of February 2013, Healthgrades will donate $1 to the American Heart Association (up to $10,000).