February is “American Heart Month,” as well as the month we observe “National Wear Red Day” (Feb. 6) to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and its prevention.
How healthy is your heart?
Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease, stroke and hypertension (high blood pressure), is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States.
Although men are more than twice as likely as women to die from preventable cardiovascular disease, heart disease is not just a “man’s disease.” A significant number of women are affected.
In fact, 1 in 4 women in this country die of heart disease and stroke while 1 in 30 die from breast cancer.
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:
• Family history
• Ethnicity (African-Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk)
• Older age (55 or older)
However, there are other risk factors that can be controlled through lifestyle changes and medications. These modifiable risk factors include:
• Physical inactivity
• Tobacco use
• High cholesterol
• Unhealthy diet (high in saturated fats, salt)
• High stress
We’ve all heard about the typical symptoms of heart attacks – chest pain, left-shoulder discomfort and shortness of breath. However, women are more likely to have unusual signs of a heart attack – what clinicians call “atypical symptoms.”
• Pain in shoulders or between shoulder blades
• Back pain
• Neck pain
• Shortness of breath
• Burning sensation in chest area
• Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting
Elderly patients having a heart attack may experience the atypical symptoms above, as well as increased confusion and drowsiness.
So, how do you lower your risk for heart disease? Exercising, eating a balanced diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, quitting smoking, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight are some ways to minimize your risks. Getting regular checkups and following your doctor’s advice can reduce your odds as well.
Here’s to a heart-healthy 2015!
Dr. Hong-Phuc Tran is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, call 310.319.4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.