Today is the American Heart Association’s national Go Red day. Go Red for women is aimed at bringing awareness and education about cardiovascular disease in women. Here are some statistics quoted from the Go Red website:
- Cardiovascular diseases and stroke cause 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds.
- An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases.
- 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke.
- Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.
- 80% of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education
- Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack.
- The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood – even by some physicians.
Cardiovascular disease includes conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels in the body. Blood carries oxygen throughout the entire body. Every organ in the body needs oxygen to function and survive. When there is a decrease in the amount of oxygen-rich blood to the heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke can occur.
What causes decreased blood-flow:
- High cholesterol: can lead to plaque formation called atherosclerosis. In other words, crud builds up on the inside of your pipes not allowing blood to flow freely.
- High blood pressure: when your pipes are narrow, the heart has to work harder to push the blood through.
- Arrhythmia: Irregular pumping of the heart can lead to decreased blood flow
- Heart valve problems: When valves don’t function properly, blood leaks back in the heart instead of flowing forward.
- Heart failure: Also called congestive heart failure happens when the heart is pumping inefficiently. The body’s response to the need for blood that it isn’t getting is to retain fluid. A person with heart failure will see swelling that starts in the feet and ankles. They often also experience shortness of breath.
- Blood clots: blood cells can stick together if they do not circulate effectively. A blood clot can become stuck in blood vessels and cause a decrease or complete obstruction of blood flow.
Heart Attack and Stroke:
Both of these conditions can be classified as attacks – heart attack and brain attack. In a heart or brain attack there has been some sort of blockage of blood to the heart or brain. When the heart or brain does not receive blood, it also does not receive oxygen. Without oxygen, the part of the heart or brain not getting the blood will die. Once the heart or brain tissue dies, it cannot be repaired.
Warning signs of heart attack or stroke:
- Pain in the chest, upper back, jaw or neck
- Numbness to the face, arms or legs
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe headache
- Nausea / vomiting
- Inability to speak correctly
- Face drooping on one side
- Difficulty moving one side of the body
- Vision changes
If you experience any of the above symptoms, getting an emergency evaluation right away is crucial. Remember the phrase, “Time is muscle or brain.” This means the longer you wait, the more organ damage can occur which could mean permanent disability or death.
Once at the hospital, you can expect an evaluation right away. The most important treatment involves removing the blockage in order to allow the blood to flow again. The faster this happens, the better the chance for preventing damage or death to the heart or brain tissue. This may occur by a procedure to insert a stent or with specialized tools to remove a blood clot. There are also medications that may be used to break apart a blood clot.
In order for these interventions to occur, the individual has to meet very strict criteria. If one is found to not be eligible for one of the above interventions immediately, there will likely be further blood work and testing.
Here are six very important tips when receiving an emergency evaluation:
- Do not ignore or downplay your symptoms. Women often tend to chalk up symptoms to stress or heartburn
- Be sure to provide an accurate medication list to the Emergency Department doctor and nurses. Knowing your current medications will help determine your course of treatment.
- Be able to provide an accurate history of your symptoms.
- If possible, have someone you trust at your bedside. A friend or loved one can be your advocate and second set of eyes and ears.
- Ask questions if you don’t understand or are unsure of something. In a cardiovascular emergency treatment happens very quickly and there are often multiple things happening at one time. It can be very overwhelming.
- Expect to be kept in the hospital either for observation or as an inpatient.
Of course, it is always best to focus on wellness and prevention to avoid being in an emergency situation. Love your heart, brain and the rest of your body by eating a heart healthy diet and committing to regular physical activity. I personally love the American Heart Association’s cookbooks. They are filled with amazing meals that are so good for you! And in order to soak up nutrients from fruit and get enough water throughout the day (while also saving money and helping the environment), I make my own fruit infused water. It lasts me all day (multiple refills, lol!) and then at the end of the day I can throw the fruit in some yogurt for a protein packed, healthy and tasty snack!