With heart disease still the number one killer in the United States, heart health is at the front of both national and local medicine.
According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), roughly 600,000 Americans die of heart disease annually, indicating that one in every four deaths stem from heart problems.
According to Highland District Hospital Cardiopulmonary Manager Wayne Shaffer, in terms of heart health, people need to “be aware of their body’s signals.”
The CDC lists the following signs of a heart attack: chest pain or discomfort; upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach; shortness of breath; nausea; lightheadedness; or cold sweats.
“They need to listen to their bodies,” Shaffer said.
Yet, according to Candace Kennedy, director of cardiovascular and pulmonary services at Adena Health Systems, for half of the population those signals can be more difficult to detect.
For women, she said, the signs of a heart attack are “not typical Hollywood symptoms.” Instead, women usually experience fatigue, weakness, and a general sense of not feeling well. In addition, rather than chest pains, women often feel discomfort in the neck, jaw, or back.
Many times, Kennedy said, “Women think they’re just under the weather.”
For that reason, many women ignore those signals. “That’s why it’s a killer for us,” Kennedy said.
In fact, Kennedy said that in a 2007 study, more women suffered from cardiovascular disease than men did.
Kennedy said that while many people think breast cancer is the greatest risk for women, the fact is that heart disease is the biggest killer of both genders.
Locally, in a county-by-county study, the CDC examined heart disease-related deaths in adults ages 35 and up between the years 2007 and 2009. Highland County was in the second highest interval of that data. For every 100,000 deaths, between 399.8 and 458.2 deaths were related to heart disease.
Only 643 other counties across the nation were in a higher interval (458.3 to 750.8 deaths for every 100,000). In contrast, 1,849 counties were in intervals that indicated fewer heart disease-related deaths in comparison to Highland County.
Yet, the prevalence of heart disease is not equal to the overall understanding of it.
According to the CDC, a 2005 survey showed that, while 92 percent of respondents recognized chest pain as a heart attack symptom, only 27 percent knew all the major symptoms. Further, around 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occurred outside hospitals, which, the CDC website states, “suggests that many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.”
Shaffer said, “Most people don’t even realize they have heart problems until they have a heart attack.”
On a positive note, Shaffer said that within the past 10 years, Highland County has become more aware of heart healthy lifestyle choices.
As an example, he said stores are featuring more health food sections.
However, other evidence shows that heart health continues to be a struggle.
Kennedy said the main risk factors contributing to poor heart health are diabetes, smoking, and obesity.
“Those are huge for us,” she said.
And while Kennedy said it is difficult to gauge overall heart health as a society, she said that “trends for obesity in the United States are dramatically increasing.”
And, because obesity is a major risk factor, Kennedy said, “We can validate that’s not getting better.”
Yet heart disease, according to Shaffer, does not just affect the heart.
“The lack of oxygen in the blood and the heart,” he said, can result in other health issues, such as stroke or kidney problems, which are “often, but not always” an effect of heart disease.
The most serious impact of heart disease, Shaffer said, is “of course, death.”
However, heart disease has other effects as well. The CDC reports that heart disease costs the United States an average of $108.9 billion dollars each year, a sum that totals health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
And while the local community has made strides with more “exercise groups and diet groups now than there used to be,” Shaffer said that there is “still so much to learn.”
Continued education, he said, is “very important.”
Eating right, exercising, and quitting smoking, according to Shaffer, are all preventive measures a person can take to avoid heart disease.
Similarly, the CDC lists high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking, as major risk factors for heart disease, and that “about half of Americans (49 percent) have at least one of these three risk factors.”
“We always try to encourage people to stop smoking,” Kennedy said.
Other factors that can increase the risk for heart disease include poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol consumption.
In contrast, the CDC website states that a diet low in salt, total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, but high in fresh fruits and vegetables, is ideal for promoting heart health.
Further, the CDC recommends taking a “brisk 10 minute walk, three times a day, five days a week.”
And while short walks would be a step toward a healthier heart, Kennedy said 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week is ideal.
“We always encourage a more active lifestyle,” she said.
Shaffer also said that “regular follow-ups with your doctor” and “following your doctor’s directions with medications” can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
“Here at the hospital, we have cardiologists five days a week, and they’re some of the best cardiologists around,” he said.
Further, he said, the availability of those cardiologists has helped Highland County become more aware as a community. And that awareness, as well as those resources, will help prevent future heart problems.
Kennedy also said that awareness is key.
“We want to make sure patients in our community have the knowledge of what heart disease is. I encourage everyone to get educated.”
For more information about heart health, visit the American Heart Association website at www.heart.org.
Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.