Heart disease is the top killer for women and men in the United States, especially for those in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Heart disease is becoming an epidemic that must be addressed not just by medications and frequent screenings, but by lifestyle changes.
Among the baby boomer generation, Americans born between 1945 through 1964 the risk of developing heart disease increases significantly due to tobacco use and frequent drug and alcohol use during the adolescent and young adult years. The sudden and shocking passing of Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher, who was just 60 and legendary pop singer George Michael, 53, reflect the tragedy of these circumstances.
Even though some of you may have dabbled in recreational drug use, there are plenty of other factors that lead to heart disease including genetics, diet, and lack of exercise. Alan Thicke, 69, recently died from a ruptured aorta which may not have been preventable through diet and exercise, but an earlier diagnosis and treatment intervention might have shifted the course of events for him.
Recognizing the Heart’s Pain Symptoms
Now let’s discuss how pain manifests in heart disease.
The most important thing you can do for yourself besides staying healthy is knowing what to look for during a heart attack or a stroke. Here are some common warning signs:
- Chest discomfort/pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the left arm
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness
It is possible for people to experience heart attacks without even realizing it, but many times there is some symptom that occurs, even though subtle. Pain in the upper back or jaw is less common. Chest pain, tightness, and pressure may signal you are having a heart attack if you have blocked arteries. The discomfort can last several minutes or subside and return later. It’s usually not constant discomfort lasting 24 hours/day. It’s more intermittent.
What if the pain is subtle?
Your chest pain may not feel like much. You might think its heartburn or nausea. Always err on the side of seeking help.
3 Ways to Foster a Healthier Heart
February is linked to the heart thanks to Valentine’s Day, but it is also American Heart Month. This national awareness month encourages us to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that can lead to a lifetime of a healthy, strong heart. Here are a few things you should consider to prevent heart disease:
- You are What You Eat
While your taste buds may not appreciate leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables, your body seeks them out. Foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium are beneficial for your heart and blood vessels. Foods rich in omega-3 oils such as fish, nuts, and legumes help fight high cholesterol. Try avoiding meats several days a week too. Low fat or non-fat dairy products and skinless chicken help us avoid unnecessary fat and salt in the diet. Of course, limit the sugary foods and soft drinks as much as possible. Sugar can lead to weight gain, stress on the joints, pain, and inflammation. Remember, the foods you eat can certainly contribute to how you feel.
- Get Moving
While you don’t have to work out every day, walking a few times a week and doing some extra high aerobic exercises like running, biking, or swimming can make your heart stronger. It also helps control inflammation which leads to heart disease, and pain. They call it cardio for a reason!
- Be aware
Women are known to have other signs of a heart attack than those listed above. Men more typically experience pain in the left arm or report chest pain. On the other hand, women may not display these signs at all. Women more commonly experience a cold sweat and nausea during a heart attack. Others feel indigestion, upper back or neck pain, fatigue, or shortness of breath. Some women feel anxious or have the sense of impending doom. Surprisingly, about 50% of women report sleeplessness one month before a heart attack.
If you think you’re having a heart attack, chewing 4 baby aspirin and calling 911 can be a life saver. Tune into my show, Heart Pain: Sounding the Alarm, to learn much more about heart disease, especially in women.
Remember, no one is immune to pain, but together we can overcome it.