It’s February—the month for all things heart-related—American Heart Month, Go Red for Women, and, of course, Valentine’s Day! But heart health is a topic that’s always in the news, especially because cardiovascular disease now affects nearly half of U.S. adults. 1 In this blog, we explore three topics that shed a little light on how the disease has changed in recent years.
1. Diabetes and heart disease often go hand-in-hand
You may have noticed lots of advertisements for prescription drugs that lower the risk of heart failure hospitalizations for diabetes patients. That’s because there is a strong correlation between cardiovascular disease and diabetes. According to the American Heart Association, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes. 2 The American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 30 million Americans are now living with diabetes.
Why are these two diseases so strongly correlated? Much of it has to do with the fact that people who suffer from diabetes are also more likely to have certain conditions that increase their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Lack of physical activity
Fortunately, all of these risk factors are modifiable with changes to diet, exercise, and quitting smoking. These lifestyle changes can also dramatically reduce the progression of Type 2 diabetes and may control Type 1 diabetes.3
2. Heart disease no longer just affects older people.
You may think of heart disease as something that primarily affects people in their 60s or 70s. That is no longer the case. A recent study showed that 20% of people who have a heart attack are 40 or younger, a rate that has risen 2% a year for 10 years. 4
As discussed above, the correlation between diabetes and heart disease is often to blame. Type-2 diabetes is rising among younger adults due to a more sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity. The prevalence of obesity is also a factor—35.7% of young adults aged 20 to 39 years are obese. 5 Sadly, these risk factors often develop in childhood, making it even more important to establish heart-healthy habits early on.
Finally, young people with a family history of heart disease are at even greater risk. Guidelines recommend that people ages 20 to 39 without hereditary risk have their cardiovascular health assessed every four to six years; those with hereditary risk need to be even more vigilant about talking with their doctor and not ignoring any early warning symptoms. 6
3. Female heart attack symptoms are different.
We’ve known for a while that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women. In fact, it is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. 7 And yet, many women still view heart disease as something that mostly affects men.
One reason for the lack of awareness is that the symptoms of a female heart attack are not so well-known. We’ve been conditioned to think that a heart attack presents with severe chest pain and pain down the arm—typical for men. For women, the signs of a heart attack are subtler—shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain—symptoms that could be mistaken for any number of things. 8
In a previous blog, we told the story of one of our well-being challenge participants, Mary Jo, whose heart attack took her completely by surprise. If her husband had not had the presence of mind to call 9-1-1 she might not be here today.
So, it’s critical to continue to spread awareness not only of the prevalence of heart disease in women, but also the unique warning signs.
The good news? 80% of heart disease is preventable.
Experts agree that eating a healthy diet, exercising, and not using tobacco products are three main things we can do to prevent a heart attack. Many well-being solutions (like WebMD Health Services) offer guidance and coaching in all three of those areas. Physicians, nutritionists, and exercise professionals can also help in creating a plan to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. The rest is up to us!