Be smart about your heart

Hearts are seemingly everywhere these days with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, but there’s another kind of heart that needs to be addressed. It’s the one that keeps the blood pumping through your veins and helps you function as a living and breathing person.

February is American Heart Month and heart disease has been called the silent killer because it often has no noticeable symptoms. In 2003, research showed that heart disease was the No. 1 killer of women and actually killed more women than men. The American Heart Association, in an effort to save lives and raise awareness of heart disease, started the Go Red For Women movement, making that little red dress the symbol of the battle against heart disease in women.

Jerilyn Alexander, stroke and STEMI (an acronym for a form of heart attack) coordinator at Trinity Health, said women are definitely at a high risk for heart disease and the hospital sees a fair number of women having heart attacks. They don’t tend to come in to the emergency room right away, though, she said.

“The sooner you come in, the sooner we can treat and minimize the damage,” she said.

People typically experience pain with a heart attack, Alexander said. Most people think of the crushing chest pain that is talked about when describing one of the main symptoms, she continued, but the symptoms are different for women. Alexander said women have described feeling pain in between their shoulder blades or in their jaw.

Typical symptoms of heart attack in women, according to the Go Red For Women website, include uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back; pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; and shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort. There are also other symptoms such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. Just like with men, the most common symptom of heart attack in women is chest pain or discomfort. However, it’s important to note that women are more likely to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

People who are experiencing any symptoms of a heart attack are strongly urged to get to the emergency room as soon as possible. Patients still wait two to three hours before calling 9-1-1, Alexander said, but even three hours’ time will damage tissue in the heart. While a definite timeline can’t be given for how long a person has to get treatment until any damage happens, but the sooner the person seeks medical attention, the better.

Alexander said people in their 30s and 40s have been coming in and showing signs of heart attack and in general, there are typically two to three people who come in every week.

“People think they’re too young and ignore the symptoms,” she added about the younger patients. “But they need to come in right away.”

Overall, from acute to progressive chest pain, Alexander said the hospital staff sees about 35 people per month. Of those 35 people, it’s a 30/70 split, she added, 30 percent women and 70 percent men.

“But heart disease is the No. 1 killer in women,” she added.

One thing people can do to prevent a heart attack is to pay attention to their bodies, Alexander recommended.

“If you recognize the symptoms, come in right away,” she said. “Prevention is best, but always be suspicious and come to the hospital.”

Alexander said some other ways to prevent heart disease include controlling your blood pressure, controlling your blood sugars if you’re diabetic, controlling cholesterol, eating a healthy diet, exercising, smoking cessation, drinking alcohol in moderation, following up with doctor’s appointments and taking medicine as prescribed.

“Try to be as healthy as you can,” she said.