The winter season presents a slew of health challenges such as colds, the flu and various respiratory illnesses; but February also marks American Heart Month. Alarming rates in the Black community and the recent on-field collapse of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin have placed a heavier emphasis on the dire importance of heart health, particularly as it pertains to African Americans across the nation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black adults are among those bearing the highest burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the health-related consequences. Although roughly half of all Americans (47%) have at least one of the three risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking, Black adults are still dying at twice the rate of their White adult counterparts.
Heart disease does not abruptly happen, but rather develops over time. The gradual increase of blood vessels leading to the heart becoming more narrow and eventually clogged leads to a host of life-threatening, and at times, fatal, results. Local physicians emphasize some of the key symptoms that signal reasons to be alarmed.
“Heart-related symptoms are pretty common. So lots of people get sharp chest pains here and there. Lots of people get some fluttering in their chest, or palpitations, and a fair number of people will faint,” Dr. Charles Berul, chief of cardiology at Children’s National Hospital, told WTOP. “So if you get up too fast and get dizzy and faint, that’s not as worrisome. Any of those symptoms with exertion are more concerning.”
The staggering rates highlight major concern as the country is seeing an increasing number of CVD and CVD mortalities among working-age adults (typically within the 35- to 54-year-old range). Black adults carry the highest “burden” of CVD and closely linked health ramifications across the country.
Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
With heart attacks or symptoms due to cardiovascular disease as one of the leading causes of death in the United States, it is imperative to learn the telling signals of an endangered heart, as well as an active plan of survival if experiencing the horrific illness. Speaking to your doctor to learn your current risks of heart attack and warning signs, and consulting family members to emphasize the importance of calling 911 in case of emergency are vital checkpoints in keeping yourself and loved ones safe.
The following points outline the physical symptoms to closely monitor if you happen to experience them:
Chest pains: When experiencing a heart attack, your chest will often hurt or feel tightly squeezed and restrained.
Bodily Pains: Usually one or both arms, your stomach, or your back will hurt.
Facial Aches: Pain can occur in either your jaw or neck.
Shallow Breath: A heart attack will take your breath away, if you will, as it will feel difficult to breathe.
Dizziness and Sweating: A risk to your heart health can potentially cause one to break out in cold sweats or feel light-headed.
Feelings of Nausea: A common symptom can show as feeling sick to your stomach.
How to Get Ahead of Your Heart Health
Normalizing healthy lifestyle habits can significantly reduce risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes. Routine practices suggested by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the CDC are sound directives to help regulate heart health, and prevent worsening health conditions such as the following:
Smoking is a well-known health hazard as carcinogens and product ingredients greatly increase the formation of plaque in our blood vessels. Cigarette smoke, for example, causes thicker blood and often forms blood clots inside the arteries and veins.
Reduce Intake of Sugary Foods:
Doughnuts, ice cream, sodas and everything sugary in between are an unhealthy impetus for inflammation in our bodies, often leading to excess stress on the heart and blood vessels.
Increase Your Fruit and Vegetable Servings:
Fruits and vegetables are chock-full of antioxidants, which are a great defense in reducing the build-up of plaque and other substances in the arteries.
Have Regular Checkups:
One of the greatest causes of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease is our lack of attention to alarming red flags and proper medical diagnoses to identify the symptoms we are experiencing. Keeping up with your primary care physicians to know your status in terms of blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol and other measurements are a key tactic to staying two feet ahead of stopping any hazardous health episodes.