The heart truth

Can women get heart disease? Are only older people at risk for heart disease? What is heart disease? There are many questions and misconceptions about heart disease. The month of February is dedicated to bring awareness to multiple areas of heart disease.

Heart disease is responsible for over 600,000 deaths every year and the leading cause of death in both men and women. It is a common term that includes many different diagnoses. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease which clogs the arteries and blocks the blood from flowing freely, and can cause heart attacks. Heart failure is another type which is a disorder of how well the heart pumps blood to the body. Other kinds of heart disease may involve the valves in the heart which keep blood flowing efficiently through the heart. Each of these causes of heart disease is tragic in its own right. But because coronary artery disease is both common and preventable, it is the greatest tragedy of all.

American Heart Association’s heart disease awareness, Go Red for Women, kicks off on the first Friday of February every year. Go Red invites everyone to empower themselves and learn about women’s heart risks and also by wearing red on the first Friday to bring awareness to how often women are affected by heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, causing one in three deaths. That’s about one woman every minute. The Go Red movement also educates women that the symptoms they feel when having a heart attack or heart warning signs called angina could feel very different than what a man might experience. Many women experience heart symptoms as back pain, shortness of breath, heartburn and nausea. These symptoms can be confusing and many women delay seeking medical attention right away because they are not thinking the symptoms they feel are from their heart.

Another type of heart disease that is highlighted in February is congenital heart disease. This is when a baby is born with some type of abnormality to their heart; about eight babies out of 1,000 births are born with a heart defect. Most of these defects are mild and do not require treatment. Some defects require surgery to fix the problem. Some warning signs that a baby has heart problems could include breathing difficulties, feeding difficulties, or poor weight gain. Most often heart defects are detected through routine medical checkups.

As for persons 20-40 years old in the years 2013 and 2014; 2,100 people were hospitalized due to ischemic heart disease, 1,045 people hospitalized because of heart attack, 570 hospitalized with heart failure, another 3,900 were hospitalized because of an abnormal heart rhythm called an arrhythmia. These numbers show that although heart disease does occur most often in people over 50 years old, young people are not immune to this disease; as many as 4 percent to10 percent of all heart attacks occur before the age of 45. Coronary artery disease is the most important cause of early heart attacks but there are other causes to note. About 4 percent of heart attacks in young adults are caused by congenital abnormalities of the coronary artery anatomy. Roughly 5 percent can be attributed to blood clots that originate elsewhere and are carried in the bloodstream to the arteries that surround the heart, where they block the artery. Various disorders of the blood clotting system increase the risk of clot formation throughout the circulatory system, including in coronary arteries accounts for another 5 percent. Additionally, 6 percent of heart attacks in young people occur due to spasm or inflammation of the heart arteries, radiation therapy for chest tumors, chest trauma, and abuse of cocaine, amphetamines, or other drugs.

Now that we know heart disease can affect people of all ages and both men and women alike, what can we do to minimize our risk? Follow these five ways to love your heart:

1. Be active: American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.

2. Eat smart: Enjoy a diet low in sodium, saturated fat and trans fat. Include fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.

3. Evaluate your risk: Age, gender, race/ethnicity, family history and other medical conditions can all increase your risk of developing heart disease. Know which factors affect you and what you can do to reduce them.

4. Listen to your heart: If you notice your body giving you warning signs, pay attention to them and get checked by a doctor. By visiting a doctor early, your chances of avoiding a serious condition increase.

5. Know the facts: Read up on heart disease. By knowing about the disease, you will be better prepared to help prevent and fight it.

Jessica Meyer, CCRP, RN, BS, is affiliated with UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab.