Six Facts about Heart Disease Everyone Should Know
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, including Johnston County. We spoke to Dr. Janis, a cardiologist with North Carolina Heart and Vascular and one of Johnston Health’s leading cardiologists, about the importance of heart health, and how people can identify and reduce their risk of a cardiac event. Here are the six facts we learned about the causes, symptoms and prevention of heart disease.
1. Up to 1 in 5 patients will have a heart attack and never even know.
Most people think that heart attacks only happen in the way they are portrayed on TV –with an overweight man who is advanced in age clutching his arm and falling to the ground, complaining of severe pain in his chest and an inability to breathe. While it is true that chest pain and shortness of breath are potential symptoms of a cardiac event, milder symptoms are more common than you may think. Pressure in the chest or general discomfort and mild pain in the neck and/or arms are good indicators that something may be going on with your heart. If you are experiencing mild symptoms like these, call your primary care doctor or cardiologist immediately. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, including fainting and dizziness, call 911 or visit the emergency department.
2. Heart disease can look different for women than it does for men.
While women and men have a similar risk of heart disease, they may experience different symptoms. Women with heart disease and who experience heart attacks are much more likely to complain of shortness of breath and fatigue. Those who do feel severe pain and discomfort in their upper body will often feel it between their shoulder blades, as opposed to men who often feel the pain in their arms and neck. The bottom line is that – even if your symptoms do not fit an exact description or something that you heard from a friend or loved one – you should have any and all new or unusual symptoms evaluated by a doctor. If you are experiencing sudden and/or extreme chest or back pain, shortness of breath, nausea or dizziness and fainting, call 911 immediately.
3. A family history of heart disease can double your risk.
If you have a male family member who is under the age of 55 and has heart disease or a female family member who is under the age of 65 and has heart disease, you are considered to have a family history of the disease. This increases your risk of developing heart disease as well.
4. Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are three of the top risk factors.
If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you may be at a higher risk of heart disease. The good news is that all three of these conditions can be managed and, therefore, so can your risk for heart disease. The best way to avoid or manage all three of these conditions is to stay active and maintain a healthy diet. If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, medication may also help you manage those conditions. In this case, taking your medication reliably is the best way to make sure your risk for heart disease stays low.
5. COVID-19 could impact your heart health, but not in the way you think.
The biggest way that COVID-19 is affecting heart health is by causing people to avoid seeking medical care when they need it. According to Dr. Janis, a hospital is one of the safest places you could be in terms of the risk of contracting COVID-19. Johnston Health’s hospital staff follows a strict set of protocols that has been very successful in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms that indicate you may be having some sort of cardiac event, it is imperative that you call 911.
For more information about Johnston Health’s response to COVID-19, please visit https://www.johnstonhealth.org/coronaviruscovid-19-resources/.
6. 80 percent of heart disease is preventable.
Since we know most of the risk factors for heart disease and can easily identify most of the symptoms, heart disease is very preventable. The best things you can do to lower your risk are to stay active, improve your diet, quit smoking and see a cardiologist regularly.