American Heart Month, which is celebrated each February, is a good time to remind both men and women about the dangers of coronary heart disease and ways people can reduce their risks.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.
What puts someone at risk for heart disease?
High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and obesity are some of the risk factors for heart disease, according to Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC) Cardiologist Thomas Martin, MD, FACC. The more risk factors people have, the more likely they are to develop heart disease.
The risk factors listed above account for about two-thirds of the total number of heart disease cases, while the remaining causes of heart disease are still unknown, Dr. Martin says.
Men are at a higher risk for heart disease than women. However, the risk rises in women over age 55, provided they do not have the risks previously mentioned.
Men and women who have a family history of coronary heart disease are at a higher risk, as well.
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
In 50% of the population, the first symptom of heart disease can be, unfortunately, sudden death.
That percentage is higher when it comes to smokers, Dr. Martin says. The good news is that by quitting smoking, people can quickly reverse their additional risk factors. After two weeks, the immediate risk goes away. Although the residual effects of smoking last for a much longer time, according to Dr. Martin.
The most common symptom of coronary heart disease is discomfort in the chest — pain, pressure or a burning sensation. Sometimes the discomfort will radiate to people’s backs, shoulders and jaws.
This pain can be associated with shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, and if severe enough, vomiting. About one-third of all heart attacks present with classic symptoms, Dr. Martin says.
Women present with different symptoms than men. Heart disease is missed more in women because they present with unusual symptoms that not everyone is aware of as being heart-related, Dr. Martin says.
Atypical symptoms for heart disease in men and women (though more common in women) are back pain and an unexpected shortness of breath that presents suddenly.
Diabetics are especially at risk for heart disease, Dr. Martin warns. They can have a heart attack and not even know they are having symptoms.
How do you know if you should seek medical attention?
People who have an onset of chest discomfort they cannot explain should see a provider immediately, Dr. Martin advises.
If people are not sure about their symptoms, they should go to the hospital or see their doctor. Do not dismiss symptoms as nothing, like heartburn or acid reflux. Be safe and seek medical attention.
To schedule an appointment with the PCRMC Medical Group Heart & Vascular Center, please call 573-308-1301.