February is American Heart Awareness Month 

Know the Signs – Act in Time

Carolyn Owen had a heart attack in September 2009 while on vacation. In the middle of the night, she experienced severe pain in her arm and chest and knew these were warning signs of a heart attack. She woke her friend who called 911 and gave her an aspirin.  At the hospital, she received a stent to restore blood flow to her clogged artery.

“After returning home I changed my diet and began to live a heart healthy lifestyle,” Carolyn said. “I’m trying to be more physically active, I’m eating a healthy diet and lowering salt consumption, and I’m working toward a healthy weight.”

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Carolyn was lucky, because almost two-thirds of the women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, 36 percent of women did not perceive themselves to be at risk for heart disease in a 2005 survey.

Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a "man's disease," around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. In Arkansas, one out of every four deaths comes as the result of a heart attack, making heart attack the leading cause of death in the state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart attack victims have a better chance of surviving if their symptoms are recognized and emergency medical treatment begins early.

National Wear Red Day, February 3, has been set aside this year to help raise awareness of heart disease among women. Wear red in February for American Heart Month and National Wear Red Day (the first Friday in February) to help raise awareness about heart disease, but don't stop there. Make sure you know the signs of a heart attack, questions to ask your doctor about heart health and how to lower your risk for heart disease.

Only 39 percent of Arkansas adults can correctly identify the most common symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
  • Feeling weak, lightheaded or faint
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

When a heart attack occurs, the blood supply to the heart is reduced so that some heart muscle cells do not receive enough oxygen and begin to die.  The longer it takes for a person to receive treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.

If you are a smoker, the most important thing you can do to prevent a heart attack is to quit
smoking. Having high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, smoking, and having had a previous heart attack, stroke, or diabetes can increase your chances of having a heart attack. It is important to keep blood pressure less than 120/80 or total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dl.

Of course, anyone who has been diagnosed with a heart condition should be under a physician’s care and receive regular evaluations. But there is much that any adult can do to make sure they aren’t at an increased risk.