February is the month for Valentines, symbolized by big red hearts.
At Swope Health, we encourage all patients to be aware of heart disease, which is recognized as a leading cause of death in the US, claiming 700,000 lives a year. It also is the No. 1 cause of death in women, causing one in three deaths each year, and the leading cause of death for Black and Hispanic people.
Heart disease refers to several types of conditions, including coronary artery disease – the buildup that lessens the flow of blood to the heart, which can cause a heart attack. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key factors that increase the risk of heart disease. Other factors include diabetes, being overweight, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol use.
These conditions – especially high blood pressure and diabetes– disproportionately affect people of color. High blood pressure is more common in Black Americans than any other race or ethnic group, and, and it develops earlier in life. Black adults are nearly twice as likely as white adults to develop diabetes. Highlighting these racial disparities is an important part of Swope Health’s educational campaign to raise awareness and promote health equity.
“I want all our patients, and especially women and people of color, to understand the risks and take action to prevent heart disease or stroke with smart and healthy decisions about self-care, exercise, and food,” says Dr. Naiomi Jamal, Chief Health Officer at Swope Health.
“Heart disease is sometimes called a ‘silent killer,’ because not everyone with the disease has symptoms,” she noted. “Many women don’t recognize how common heart disease is, even though it kills more women than all types of cancer combined.”
It is especially important for Black women to be aware, as the disease disproportionally impacts Black women. According to the American Heart Association, among Black women ages 20 and up, nearly 59 percent have a cardiovascular or heart disease. Additionally, since 1984, more women than men have died from heart disease, and the gap has been growing every year.
Part of the reason may be because the symptoms of heart disease can be different between men and women. Since most medical research has historically focused on white men, the differences in symptoms are often misunderstood in women and communities of color.
For example, the most common symptom of a heart attack in men is pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest. But women may not have chest pain or may experience the pain differently. For women, the most common heart attack symptoms are:
- Pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, or upper back
- Pain in one or both arms
- Upper belly discomfort, heartburn
- Shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, lightheadedness or dizziness
- Nausea or vomiting
The risks of heart disease are serious for Black people, who, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic white people. And, although Black adults are 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, they are less likely than white adults to have their blood pressure under control.
There are ways to fight against the risks, however, starting with a visit with your provider, notes Dr. Jamal. At Swope Health, you’ll have a team of healthcare professionals ready to guide you through healthy options.
“We can help you take steps, starting right away, to reduce your risks of heart disease,” said Dr. Jamal. “When you come in for a checkup, we assess your overall health and use a team-based approach to help you with healthy choices.”
In a checkup, your provider will measure your blood pressure, height and weight, and there may be other screenings, like for cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Your provider can help with steps including managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, being more active, eating better, losing weight and stopping smoking.
Swope Health’s care team also includes a licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist who can help with setting up meal plans and schedules, including tips on food buying on a limited budget and personalized nutrient needs.
Start your heart health journey today – call 816-923-5800 to schedule an appointment for a checkup with Swope Health.
Heart-healthy steps you can take
From the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association developed a guide called “Life’s Essential 8,” on the eight key measures for improving heart health to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and other major health problems.
1. Eat Better
Aim for an overall healthy eating pattern that includes whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and cooking in non-tropical oils such as olive and canola.
2. Be More Active
Adults should get 2 ½ hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week. Kids should have 60 minutes every day, including play and structured activities.
3. Quit Tobacco
Use of inhaled nicotine delivery products, which includes traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaping, is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., including about a third of all deaths from heart disease. And about a third of U.S. children ages 3-11 are exposed to secondhand smoke or vaping.
4. Get Healthy Sleep
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Children require more: 10-16 hours for ages 5 and younger, including naps; 9-12 hours for ages 6-12; and 8-10 hours for ages 13-18. Adequate sleep promotes healing, improves brain function and reduces the risk for chronic diseases.
5. Manage Weight
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight has many benefits. Body mass index, a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height, is a useful gauge. Optimal BMI is 25. You can calculate it online or consult a health care professional.
6. Control Cholesterol
High levels of non-HDL, or “bad,” cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Your health care professional can consider non-HDL cholesterol as the preferred number to monitor, rather than total cholesterol, because it can be measured without fasting beforehand and is reliably calculated among all people.
7. Manage Blood Sugar
Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use as energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage your heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. As part of testing, monitoring hemoglobin A1c can better reflect long-term control in people with diabetes or prediabetes.
8. Manage Blood Pressure
Keeping your blood pressure within acceptable ranges can keep you healthier longer.