By Shayna Bryan (UAB Community Health & Human Services Intern) and Dr. Larrell L. Wilkinson
Every February since 1964, Americans have celebrated American Heart Month! Why? According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death among American adults and most ethnic/racial groups. Heart disease the body’s circulatory system, i.e. your veins and arteries. There are several forms of heart disease, but some of the most common include heart attack and coronary artery disease. According to the American Heart Association , a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is interrupted, thus the oxygen supply to the heart muscle is reduced or completely cut off. This is important because the CDC estimates that 805,000 heart attacks occur annually in the United States.
Among Americans, non-Hispanic Black (African Americans) are at great risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association reports that about half of African-American women over the age of 20 have some form of heart disease, yet only about 1 out of 3 know their heart health risk. Around 50,000 African-American women die from cardiovascular disease annually. But we can prevent the deaths and reduce the number of our families impacted by heart disease. Here is what we can do:
Step 1: Learn your risk for heart disease.
Visit your doctor and ask for diagnostic tests for coronary heart disease. If you don’t have a personal physician or access to health care, contact Jefferson County Department of Health or your local county health department for assistance.
In general, any individual who has been diagnosed with any of these conditions is at risk for heart disease:
• Overweight or obesity
• High blood pressure
• Physical inactivity
• Family history (first degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has had a heart attack or stroke before age 50)
Step 2: Work to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Five servings a day is the recommended minimum, so aim even higher by making vegetables half of your meal. Lower your sodium intake by eating more home cooked meals, instead of fast food. Drink water, not soda or juice which is high in added sugars.
Aim for 150 minutes of physical activity every week. That’s only around 20 minutes a day. You can make walking part of your routine. Try going for a walk and talking to a friend on the phone. Any activity that elevates your heart rate will improve your health and help lower your risk.
Stress management is important for heart health. Eating healthy and staying active can help keep your stress levels down. Learn what triggers your stress and address it by slowing down and engaging in meditation or breathing exercises.
Step 3: Always look for the signs of a heart attack
According to the American Heart Association, women are somewhat less likely than men to experience chest pain. Instead, they are more likely to experience:
- Pressure or tightness in the chest
- Stomach pain
To learn more about heart disease in women, please click on the links above. Additional resources include the following links: