While most of us are familiar with the annual, February campaign to raise awareness about heart health, we can’t afford to become glib about the subject since cardiovascular health remains the leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S. In addition, it also continues to be a leading cause of serious illness and disability among Americans.

Not Just Your Grandpa’s Disease…

Considering that about 82% of people who die of coronary heart disease are at least 65, most of us think of that heart disease and heart attacks are an older person’s issue but, sudden heart problems can occur much earlier in life, too. As many as 10% of all heart attacks in men occur before age 45. As with heart attacks in older adults, about 80% of these attacks stem from coronary artery disease—that is, cholesterol-filled blockages in the arteries that serve the heart. Smoking and the epidemic of obesity in America are two contributing factors to these blockages among males in the 18-45 age group.

…Or Your Grandma’s Disease

Heart disease is generally considered an older women’s condition, and to a large extent this is true, but it is still a leading cause of death among younger women.

Researchers interviewed 24 female heart attack survivors who were aged 55 and younger while the women were still hospitalized. Nine out of 10 reported experiencing severe chest pain during the event, but only four of 10 perceived the problem as heart related. Dr. Judith Lichtman, PhD, of Yale School of Medicine, told WebMD that many of the women thought they had indigestion or heartburn. “Women in the 55 and younger age group often assume they are not at risk for heart disease,” she said.

Warning Signs in Men and Women

Television makes us think that every heart attack is a sudden event and, while some are, most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Some of the signs that can mean a heart attack is happening in either men or women at any age are listed below, but it’s important to note that women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness and/or extreme fatigue

Lowering your Risk

While we’ve learned that things like family history, abnormalities or blood clotting factors, etc. cannot be prevented, there is a lot we can do to lower our risk of heart disease. Here are a few tips from the Mayo Clinic:

1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco

Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis).

2. Daily exercise

Physical activity can help you control your weight and reduce your chance of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart.

3. Eat a heart-healthy diet

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart.

4. Drink alcohol in moderation

If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s better for your heart to do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

5. Be sure to get your annual physical – it’s free!

Pearson health plans provide 100% for your yearly checkup.

Source: American Heart Association