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Heart Disease Awareness Month is Time to Focus on Heart Health (dateline February 25, 2008)

February is Heart Disease Awareness Month and a time for women and men to focus on heart protection. Coronary artery disease in the leading cause of death in the United States and Europe, with stroke shortly behind it as the third leading cause of death in the United States. It is important to be familiar with the signs of a heart attack or stroke in order to receive medical attention early, when the chances of survival are the greatest.

Heart attack warning signs may include:

  • Chest discomfort lasting more than a few minutes (or discomfort that goes away and returns)
  • Discomfort in the upper body (such as in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach)
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Other signs, such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Stroke warning signs may include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Source: American Heart Association

A survey by the American Heart Association noted that women tend to underestimate the threat of heart disease, mistakenly believing that they are more likely to develop breast cancer than heart disease. Over 500,000 (one-half million) American women die of heart disease each year. This is twice the number of deaths from all cancer combined.

It is important to note that women and men may experience different symptoms of heart attack. Both men and women are likely experience pin/squeezing in middle of the chest; shooting pain/numbness in the left arm; and/or sweating/nausea. However, women are more likely to experience pain in the back, neck, or other areas; exhaustion/shortness of breath; stomach upset/indigestion; and/or feelings of anxiety.

Many of the risk factors for heart disease are the same for women and men.These risk factors include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, high fat diet, excessive weight, lack of physical activity, smoking, and a family history of heart disease. However, other risk factors for women include menopause (specifically, loss of estrogen at this time) and the use of oral contraceptives among smokers or those with high blood pressure.

While no preventive measure can eliminate the chances of developing heart disease, the U.S. government has revised its guidelines in recent years in an effort to aggressively treat and prevent heart disease in millions of Americans. In addition to more emphasis on low-fat diets and exercise, the guidelines call for an increase in the number of people that need to take cholesterol-lowering drugs from 13 million Americans to an estimated 36 million.

Additional Resources and References

  • To learn more about heart disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, click here.