When my older sister survived a heart attack in her 40's my world was completely turned upside down. As a nurse and mother, I felt the need to know how to prevent this from happening to me, my family and everyone I could reach. I was especially concerned as I knew that heart disease is disproportionately higher in African American women. (please make the statistics pop) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (updated September 8, 2020) approximately 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, half of those deaths is related to Coronary Artery Disease! Additionally, coronary artery disease is the number one cause of death of women in the United States killing 1 in 5 women. As a Nurse Practitioner I speak with many patients, educating them on the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and how to identify the atypical symptoms that occur in women. As a healthcare provider it is essential to treat my patients using the latest research while also ensuring my busy nurse moms are aware of how heart disease can personally affect them. What Is Coronary Artery Disease Your heart is a muscle which is supplied with blood, oxygen and nutrients by the coronary arteries. These coronary arteries can become blocked by a buildup of plaque or deposits of hardened cholesterol which prevents blood flow to sections of the heart. This process of plaque buildup and narrowing of arteries is known as atherosclerosis. As the arteries become more occluded (blocked) sections of the heart muscle become starved for oxygen and nutrients and die. If one of the larger arteries becomes blocked, the entire heart muscle can fail. Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women Women with coronary artery disease can have atypical symptoms. Some of them may include: · Nausea · Vomiting · Fatigue · Chest pain · Jaw pain · Abdominal pain · Back pain Controllable Risk Factors The CDC, World Health Organization and the American Heart Association are all in agreement - to reduce your risk for heart disease, identify your risk factors and control those that are controllable including: ● Diabetes ● High Blood Pressure ● High Cholesterol ● Obesity ● Smoking ● Stress Un-controllable Risk Factors Both the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology agree that the group most at risk for heart disease in general and coronary artery disease specifically is post-menopausal African American women. Additional risk factors for coronary artery disease include complications of pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia, both of which African American women are particularly susceptible to. In a study published in the journal Circulation and Cardiovascular Imaging (July 2019) researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina found that African American women with a history of gestational diabetes had more than three times the risk of coronary artery disease as women without pregnancy complications.
Reducing Your Risks for Coronary Artery Disease
Start by cleaning up your diet! Four of the six controllable risk factors are directly related to your diet. Follow a healthy plant forward diet, high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables and combined with a moderate amount of lean proteins and healthy fatty acids and you can lose excess weight, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce your risk for diabetes. Reducing your sodium intake and breaking your sugar addiction will also help you control your risks.