Myths About Black Women & Heart Disease

    A woman in a purple turtleneck making a heart shape, over her own heart, with her hands.When it comes to heart disease, health statistics tend to focus a lot on men and their particular health risks. But looking at the statistics in another way, African-American women are 35 percent more likely to die of heart disease than Caucasian women, and surveys show they are far less aware of their risk factors.

    Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women of most racial/ethnic groups in the United States, including African Americans, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Hispanics, and whites. For Asian American women, heart disease is second only to cancer.

    In 2006, about 6.9% of all white women, 8.8% of black women, and 6.6% of Mexican American women were living with coronary heart disease.

    Black women develop hypertension earlier in life and have higher average blood pressure than white women, according to HHS. Nearly half of black women have a total cholesterol number that is way too high. Nearly 80 percent are overweight or obese.

    About 450,000 women suffer heart attacks each year; in fact, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the U.S. But the good news is that more women are surviving heart attacks. Read up on 5 heart health myths that put women at risk. Plus, test your heart health IQ with our quiz…

    First, the good news: More women are survivng heart attacks. About 5% of women under age 55 died of a heart attack in 1994, but in 2006 that number went down to 2.4%. But the bad news? Younger women are still less likely to survive a heart attack than are men.

    The Top Myths Putting Women’s Hearts At Risk

    Myth 1. The pain is in my arm, not my chest, so I don’t have to worry.

    Women die from heart attacks because they often don’t recognize the symptoms until it’s too late. Until recently, many healthcare providers also missed heart attacks in women (and still do occasionally) because women don’t always have the same symptoms as men do.

    Men usually have heaviness in the left side of their chest, a feeling that’s often described as having an elephant sitting on top of them. It can be accompanied by pain down the left arm or up the neck, sweating and shortness of breath.

    Some women do have the same symptoms as men. But many women having a heart attack don’t have chest pain at all. They may have jaw, arm, back or stomach pain or an overwhelming feeling of fatigue, along with shortness of breath. Or they may feel as if they have a bad flu and may experience nausea and vomiting.

    Most women experience symptoms about a month before the heart attack, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health. The most common warning signs were unusual fatigue, sleep problems, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety.

    Women have great instincts, particularly about their own bodies. If you know that you are more tired than usual or simply are not feeling like yourself, especially if you have one or more risk factors for heart disease, see your doctor as soon as possible.

    If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. While waiting for the ambulance, chew an aspirin (an adult 325 mg dose or two baby aspirins). Don’t take aspirin if you are allergic to it.

    Once the ambulance arrives, the paramedics will begin treatment immediately. Don’t go to the emergency room on your own; it will delay treatment. Time is crucial – the earlier you’re treated, the better your chances of maintaining healthy heart muscle and recovering quickly.

    Myth 2. I have to stay away from all fats.

    For years, the emphasis was on the importance of a low-fat diet, especially for heart health. It’s no wonder that when many people hear the word “fats,” they think “unhealthy.”

    But some fats are actually good for us. New dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association consider “good” and “bad” fat which, thankfully, leads to a much tastier way of eating.

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