February marks National Heart Awareness Month
February is National Heart Awareness Month, the month dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease. So, it’s time to talk hearts.
First, it is important to know that heart problems in women are not as recognizable as they are in men.
Some of the symptoms for women include extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath; discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm, below the breastbone or in the middle of the back; sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness; fullness, indigestion, a tightness in the throat area; and rapid or irregular heartbeats.
Moreover, many people believe that heart disease is a man’s disease, and therefore do not request a heart checkup on a regular basis.
“The myth that heart disease is a man’s disease is just that, a myth. The time is now for women to realize that they can fall victim,” said Karla Kurrelmeyer, M.D., a cardiologist with Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. “If a woman can get years ahead of the disease, she gives herself a much better chance of beating it.”
Women, as well as men, with risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history, should start a dialogue with their primary care physician in their 40s so they can begin a preventive regimen, and schedule regular checkups that will keep them healthy.
“Women have such a low prevalence of the disease until menopause that I feel many physicians ignore heart disease in women until they are well into their 50s and 60s,” Kurrelmeyer said.
Women and men with risk factors need to be 10years ahead of the game when it comes to prevention, but unfortunately, too many are already in the game before they are tested.
“Talking to your doctors about a family history is very important for women, especially if a family member died of the disease at a young age. They should also have their blood pressure and cholesterol monitored regularly, develop an exercise and nutrition plan, and, if they are a smoker, stop smoking,” Kurrelmeyer said.
By age 50, Kurrelmeyer recommends they should start seeing a cardiologist.
“At that time, we can begin performing heart scans, assessing their risk based on genetics, and take the necessary actions to keep them on the right track,” Kurrelmeyer said.
Women with the aforementioned risks for heart disease should treat this like they do a mammogram and be checked at least once a year, and men in regard to their annual prostate checkups.
It is also important to note that “most of the time people who are experiencing a heart attack will have pain in the chest, shortness of breath, etc. Silent heart attack symptoms might be as simple as indigestion, flu-like symptoms, or feeling discomfort like a pulled muscle in the chest or back,” Kurrelmeyer said. “It is important to have these symptoms checked as soon as possible to avoid scarring or damage to the heart.”
A recent survey published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that nearly half of the women in the United States do not know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
In addition, 74 percent of the women surveyed had a least one heart disease risk factor, but only 16 percent told their doctor about it. The survey also pointed out that only 22 percent of primary care physicians felt prepared to assess a woman’s risk for heart disease.
“If a doctor is not comfortable, ask to be referred to a cardiologist,” Kurrelmeyer said.
So, if you have not already made your annual check-up appointments, go ahead and make the call, and ask your doctor to check your heart.