For years, the perception has been that heart disease was not a significant health risk for women. But that has changed dramatically.
According to the American Heart Association website, there are about 8 million women with heart disease in the United States, and the disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. However, just one in six women believes that the disease is the greatest risk to her health.
It is important to reduce your risk factors for these diseases, to know the warning signs and to understand how necessary it is that you respond quickly when the signs occur.
Risk factors you can’t change
• Increasing age
Risk factors you can change
• Tobacco smoke
• High blood cholesterol
• High blood pressure
• Physical inactivity
• Diabetes management
• Alcohol abuse
Heart attack warning signs
The AHA says if you or someone you’re with is having chest discomfort — especially with one or more of the other signs — don’t wait longer than a few minutes before calling 911. Emergency medical technicians can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car.
• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
• Shortness of breath
• Other signs: Breaking out
in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness
Stroke warning signs
If you or someone with you has one or more of these signs, call for help immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared. According to the AHA, a clot-busting drug can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke if given within three hours of the start of symptoms.
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the face or limbs
• Sudden confusion or trouble speaking
• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
• Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Cardiac arrest warning signs
If cardiac arrest occurs, call 911 and begin CPR immediately. If an automated external defibrillator is available and someone trained to use it is nearby, involve them. Here are the signs:
• Sudden loss of responsiveness to gentle shaking
• No normal breathing for several seconds
• No signs of circulation, movement or coughing
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.