Next Friday, Feb. 1, is the best day to wear red – to support National Wear Red Day and the battle against women’s heart disease.
This is the 11th year that wearing red for women’s heart awareness has been recognized nationally by the American Heart Association. It kicks off American Heart Month. More women die of heart disease (heart attacks and strokes) each year than any other disease – often because the symptoms are missed because they differ from men’s symptoms.
Risk factors for heart disease in La Plata County continue to be higher for the 42 percent of the overweight adult residents, the one in seven obese, and the more than one in five who have elevated blood pressure.
The Behavioral Risk Surveillance summary identified that less than one in five are physically inactive (compared with one in three nationally) and more than half of La Plata County adults, 57.5 percent, eat fast food at least once a week. Heart disease risk is higher for Latinos, which is aggravated by the fact that more than one of four Latinos smoke.
Smoking is a preventable risk factor, and we are now beginning to realize that general distress is a close second.
Heart disease risk increases as levels of anxiety, anger or general symptoms of distress increase. Risk for smokers is about 180 percent above nonsmokers and the risk for those with mental stress is a close second (170 percent). Unhealthy behaviors (smoking, stress, being overweight and physical inactivity) are identified as the most significant risk factors. The interesting thing is that each of these risk factors affects women significantly more than they affect men.
Small vessel heart disease is aggravated by low levels of estrogen post-menopause. Partner this with the factors listed above, and diet becomes even more important for women. Decreasing saturated fat is important to lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) formation.
Overall, however, women develop small vessel heart disease (blockage of peripheral arteries) more often. The “silent” heart attack (silent ischemia) is caused by gradual plaque buildup in peripheral arteries. This is only diagnosed after a subsequent cardiac stress test or blood enzyme test.
Almost half of women (42 percent), compared to one in four men, die within the first year of their first recognized heart attack. Women typically have no acute chest pain and are less likely to receive appropriate (or any) treatment. We are gradually starting to realize that heart attack symptoms are very different in women, though many health-care providers still don’t recognize the difference. Until research includes more women, rather than the current one of four participants, we must be more aware.
The first 30 minutes after a heart attack is critical and can be life-altering. Women must call for an ambulance immediately if experiencing any combination of: shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, unusual weakness and fatigue or feelings of anxiety, stomach or abdominal pain, or upper abdominal pressure that feels like indigestion.
Please don’t wait to finish cleaning up or wait to see if it gets better. If you think something is wrong, don’t let anyone talk you out of that until you are satisfied. Insist that an EKG test or enzyme blood test be administered to rule out a heart attack. Be bold. Better a false alarm than a misdiagnosis.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.