What do you think when you hear the words “heart disease”? It should make you think of a condition that is the number #1 killer of women and even more deadly for African American women. Heart disease is general term that’s used to describe any heart condition. It includes heart attack, heart failure, coronary artery disease (CAD), congenital heart disease, and several other conditions.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease. It occurs when the arteries begin to narrow as a result of cholesterol-containing deposits or plague that builds up over time. When this happens, the blood flow to the heart is restricted and eventually it may cause chest pain or shortness of breath.
A complete blockage can cause a heart attack. The blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. For men, the sign of a heart attack is chest pressure (like an elephant sitting across the chest), but women often experience different symptoms. A woman’s heart attack can some with shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue. Too often these signs go undetected or misdiagnosed.
There are risk factors that increase a woman’s chance for having heart disease. Some factors are out of your control, such as family history, but some are within your control.
If you have or had close family members (parents, grandparents or siblings) with heart disease, it increases your chances of having it too. You’re also more at risk if you’re post-menopause because your body no longer produces estrogen.
You can reduce your chance of heart disease by stop smoking, reduce high blood pressure (almost 40% of black women have high blood pressure), reduce high cholesterol, control diabetes, lose weight, and exercise.
Don’t set yourself up for heart disease. To protect yourself, see your doctor, reduce your risk factors, and know the signs to watch for.