It is important to remember that heart disease doesn’t just affect older adults. It is now happening to younger adults more often, partly because the conditions that lead to heart disease are happening to people at younger ages (like obesity and high blood pressure).
The term “heart disease” describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases include, but are not limited to, blood vessel diseases (such as coronary artery disease), heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) and heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects).
Heart disease is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm are also considered forms of heart disease.
Some risk factors related to heart disease are not under your control, like age and family history, gender and ethnicity. The majority of risk factors, however, are under your control.
• SMOKING – Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers.
• POOR DIET – A diet that’s high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
• HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE – Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
• HIGH BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS – High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of plaque buildup.
• DIABETES – Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease.
• OBESITY – Excess weight often worsens your other risk factors.
• PHYSICAL INACTIVITY – Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease.
• STRESS – Unrelieved stress can damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors.
• POOR HYGIENE – Not regularly washing your hands can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition.
About half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking).
• HEART FAILURE – One of the most common complications of heart disease is heart failure. This occurs when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
• HEART ATTACK – A blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle.
• STROKE – When the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked and too little blood reaches your brain. Brain tissue begins to die within just a few minutes of a stroke.
• ANEURYSM – A bulge in the wall of your artery. If an aneurysm bursts, you may face life-threatening internal bleeding.
• PERIPHERAL ARTERY DISEASE – Your extremities, usually your legs, don’t receive enough blood flow.
• SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST – Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness, often caused.
The most common heart attack symptom in women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. However, it is not always severe and can happen without chest pain. Women are more likely to have the following symptoms:
• Neck , Jaw, Shoulder, Upper Back or Abdominal Discomfort
• Shortness of Breath
• Pain in One or Both Arms
• Nausea or Vomiting
• Light headedness or Dizziness
• Unusual Fatigue
Women’s symptoms can often surface when they are resting, or
even when they’re asleep. Because women experience symptoms
that aren’t often associated with heart attack, they tend to show up
to the emergency room after damage has already been done. If you
experience these symptoms or suspect you’re having a heart attack,
call for emergency medical help immediately.
• MANAGE CONDITIONS – Work with your health care team to manage conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Your team may include your primary care provider, or even your OBGYN, as a woman’s primary point of care may be her “well-woman” visit.
• MAKE HEART HEALTHY-EATING CHANGES – Eat food low in trans-fat, saturated fat, added sugar and sodium. Try to fill at least half of your plate with vegetables and fruits.
• STAY ACTIVE – Get moving for at least 150 minutes per week.
• Take a daily aspirin to prevent heart disease. Guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) suggest women older than 65 years take a daily 81-milligram aspirin to help prevent heart disease if their blood pressure is controlled and the risk of digestive bleeding is low.
• Before you start any kind of regimen, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking aspirin based on your individual risk factor.
• Plant more greens. A recently published study by Professor Aruni Bhatnagar, Director of the University of Louisville’s Diabetes and Obesity Center, found that living near parks and green spaces in towns and cities reduces the risk of heart disease. Trees, bushes and plants boost people’s blood vessels and heart health by reducing stress and improving air quality – especially in women.
Dr. Brandy Glascock is board certified in family medicine. She accepts patients of every age to help address their healthcare needs. Glascock received a Master of Science in community health from the University of Illinois at Urbana and received her medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She completed her residency at the University of Missouri-Columbia.