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Live Healthy, Atlanta! Thought Leader

Debunking the Myths of Heart Disease

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

The statistics surrounding heart disease are shocking. Heart disease is behind one of every four deaths in the United States, about 600,000 deaths a year. Our cultural image of a person having a heart attack is almost exclusively a middle-aged man clutching his arm and asking for a doctor, but in reality women are more likely to suffer a heart attack.

One in three women die of heart disease. Too often, women ignore the warning signs of a heart attack because they subscribe to the popular myths that heart disease primarily affects men and older people, and women only if they are obese or unfit. Another popular misconception is that the only real symptom of a heart attack is chest pain.

Although many assume heart disease is a man’s disease, more women die from heart disease than men. One of the reasons this assumption exists? Marketing. Think back: how many ads and PSAs have you seen promoting breast cancer awareness or a walk “For the Cure”? While breast cancer (and general cancer awareness) are overall positive influences, women should know that the most pressing risk to their health stems from heart disease. Happily, the same practice — regular, strenuous exercise — can reduce your risk of both breast cancer and heart disease!

Cultural narrative and media influence also lead most Americans to believe that a heart attack only affects older individuals. Most of us believe that a heart attack is caused by the wear and tear of life — clogged arteries caused by overeating, sedentary lifestyle and high cholesterol. While risks of a heart attack do increase with age, young women should know that they are not immune to having one. Use of birth control and smoking can increase the risk of heart disease by 20 percent. Underlying heart conditions are a risk factor many women don’t know about until they’ve already suffered a heart attack.

Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are risk factors for many diseases and a cause of early death for many Americans. However, fit women who exercise regularly and pride themselves on twice-weekly visits to the gym should be aware that they are still at risk for heart disease and heart attack. Family history plays a large role. If your family is prone to heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends you start requesting a cholesterol check at age 20 and that your provider keep an eye on your blood pressure as well.

We imagine that the overwhelming majority of people who have heart attacks are obese or overweight. Heart disease affects everyone. Our overwhelming tendency to equate slim with healthy is damaging to everyone, regardless of body shape. Hopefully, those with faster metabolisms and slimmer figures know that if they don’t exercise and eat properly they’re no better off than people carrying a few extra pounds.

Finally, let’s discuss symptoms. On television, the symptoms depicted are chest pain and a funny, awful feeling in the left arm, but there are many more signs. One of the reasons women are more likely to die of a heart attack than men is that they fail to recognize the symptoms. Some signs of heart attack are more pronounced in women. Below is a list of heart attack symptoms common for both men and women followed by symptoms that are more common in women.

Symptoms of Heart Attack in Men and Women

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of anxiety, fatigue and weakness that can’t be explained but worsen with exertion
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Severe chest pain
  • Pressure and tightness in the chest, usually lasting for a couple minutes, sometimes coming in waves
  • Paleness and clammy sweat

Pronounced Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women

  • Pain in your back, neck, ankle, shoulder blades or stomach
  • Jaw pain
  • Lightheadedness, sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Overwhelming/unusual fatigue

Heart disease is a major killer of both men and women in the United States. The facts deserve space in the media and in our cultural narrative. Lives hang in the balance, so spread the word!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7wmPWTnDbE]



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