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In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed February as American Heart Month — a federally designated month to help remind us to take care of our heart so we can continue to enjoy all of life’s precious moments. It’s a month to encourage us to get educated and get involved. By knowing your risk factors and learning the signs of heart attack and stroke, you may save a life — possibly yours!

Go Red For Women is the American Heart Association’s movement dedicated to the growing number of women affected by heart disease and stroke aimed at advocating for more research and swifter action for women’s heart health.

Male or female, consider the following:

  • 44 million women in the U.S. alone are estimated to be affected by cardiovascular diseases
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke lead to 1 in 3 deaths annually — the number one killer of both men and women
  • 90% of women have 1 or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke
  • Fewer women than men will survive their first heart attack
  • Symptoms can be different in women vs. men
  • Heart disease and stroke know no age, ethnicity or socioeconomic levels, though some are more at risk than others.
  • 80% of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education
  • More and more young people are affected by heart disease, in part because diabetes and childhood obesity are on the rise. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least 2 risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

KNOW THE RISK FACTORS

Risk factors that can be managed
You can control or treat these risk factors with lifestyle changes and your healthcare provider's help:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Lack of regular activity
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Diabetes

Risk factors you can't control
You can't change these risk factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Heredity (family health history)
  • Race
  • Previous stroke or heart attack


KNOW THE SIGNS

Heart Attack
For men and women, the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It may last more than a few minutes, or may come and go. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the following symptoms:

  1. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  2. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  3. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Bottom line: trust your gut! If you aren’t feeling normal or experiencing any of the symptoms above, head to the ER!

Stroke
A stroke occurs when blood flow through an artery to the brain is cut off either by a blockage or because the artery ruptures and bleeds into the brain tissue

The American Stroke Association developed this easy-to-remember guide to help identify the signs of a stroke.

F – Face drooping. Is one side of the person’s face drooping or numb? When he or she smiles, is the smile uneven?
A – Arm weakness. Is the person experiencing weakness or numbness in one arm? Have the person raise both arms, Does one of the arms drift downward?
S – Speech difficulty. Is the person’s speech suddenly slurred or hard to understand? Is he or she unable to speak? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Can he or she repeat it back?
T – Time to call 9-1-1. If any of these symptoms are present, dial 9-1-1 immediately. Check the time so you can report when the symptoms began.

Getting treatment within the first three hours after stroke onset is critical for minimizing permanent damage.

BEYOND F.A.S.T. – Other Symptoms You Should Know

  • Sudden NUMBNESS or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden CONFUSION, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden TROUBLE SEEING in one or both eyes
  • Sudden TROUBLE WALKING, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden SEVERE HEADACHE with no known cause

There are risk factors for heart disease and stroke that you can control through healthy lifestyle, and others such as family history that you cannot. It is important to know that not all heart attacks and strokes come with obvious warning signs so there is no substitution for routine, preventative health care.

 

On a personal note . . .
My husband, at the age of 52 suffered a massive stroke. By all accounts he ate healthy and exercised vigorously 4-5 times per week. He had no unhealthy habits to speak of. However, hypertension, family history, and ignoring regular physical check-ups outweighed his odds of a major-medical emergency. Two days prior to the stroke he experienced intense headache – a warning sign we were both unaware of. Thankfully, recognizing changes in speech and seeking immediate help saved his life, thus allowing our family to preserve and create many more precious memories.

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