'At The Heart Of The Matter' Exclusive Column by Dr. Dela Taghipour
You feel your heart pounding in your chest. You suddenly become aware of your own breathing. Your muscles tense up and you feel a little sweat dripping down your neck. Your adrenaline is at an all-time high, and the feeling in your chest intensifies. Could this be love? Or are you having a heart attack? Well, it's February, so all bets are off.
February is the perfect time to talk about all matters of the heart. From the explosion of a love-marked holiday that indulges our cravings for chocolate and romance, to our timelines being flooded in red for American Heart Month; February is all about your heart.
If your heart is racing but your Valentine isn't the reason why, knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can mean the difference between life and death. This may be especially true for women because they can have subtle symptoms of a heart attack that may be missed, like extreme fatigue, indigestion, memory problems, or even fainting. Both men and women may get chest pain or pressure, jaw, neck or back pain, nausea, or shortness of breath.
Stroke symptoms may also differ. Both men and women may have numbness or weakness in the face or extremities, may have trouble speaking or understanding speech, vision problems, trouble walking, or have a severe headache. Women however may experience generalized weakness, disorientation, fatigue, nausea, or vomiting.
These differences were not always well-studied, but thanks to advocacy for increased research and awareness, we now understand that cardiovascular disease causes 1 in 3 deaths each year in women and kills more women than all cancers combined. Hopefully this awareness means more lives can be saved.
Heart disease as a killer has taken a bit of a back seat amidst this global pandemic. However, before COVID-19 and all her variants, heart disease was the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, taking a life every 36 seconds. Similar to COVID-19, heart disease places a disproportionate burden on Black men and women, a risk worsened by the fact that heart disease itself puts individuals at higher risk for more severe complications when contracting COVID-19.
As a woman, as a Preventive Medicine physician who works in vascular medicine, as a person who survived a heart condition, and as a granddaughter who lost my grandparents to cardiovascular disease, matters of the heart are woven in my core, as is the desire to make a dent in those deadly statistics.
Learning the realities of the heavy burden of heart disease can hopefully encourage us to address the problems earlier on. However, temporary disruptions in preventive care due to lockdowns and delays in routine visits have been a silent contributor of heart attacks and strokes during the pandemic. This can mean missing an annual exam is the difference between high blood pressure going unchecked, diabetes going uncontrolled, or an EKG not catching an early sign of a bigger problem.
Other changes during the pandemic have also impacted heart health. Shifts in diet and exercise habits can contribute, as does increased stress, and decreased socialization which can affect physical and mental health.
So, what can be done? Feed the soul and the heart! This includes knowing your health status, so if you have delayed your routine care, consider getting yourself scheduled. Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke, make healthy choices when you can, and find ways to incorporate exercise into your pandemic lifestyle. Even 12 minutes of vigorous exercise is enough to trigger changes that benefit your cardiovascular health. Find safe, at-home self-care routines that satisfy your physical, social, mental, spiritual, and emotional needs. After all, your heart benefits from your overall well-being. ∎
Heart Attack Symptoms
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
DISCOMFORT IN OTHER AREAS OF THE UPPER BODY
Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
SHORTNESS OF BREATH
With or without chest discomfort.
May include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? As the person to smile.
Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "the sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
TIME TO CALL 9-1-1
If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and them to the hospital immediately.
DR. DELA TAGHIPOUR: Physician, Medical Correspondent & Awareness Ties Ambassador for Heart Disease (www.awarenessties.us/delataghipour)
Venous and Lymphatic Medicine Fellow, Medical Journalist, and Activist. Prior training in Preventive Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and General Surgery at Howard University Hospital Dr. Delaram Taghipour spent two years as a Research Fellow at the Clive O. Callender, M.D. Howard-Harvard Health Sciences Outcomes Research Center, contributing to the field of outcome disparities; authoring or coauthoring several abstracts, posters, manuscripts, and presentations. Dela also had the opportunity to propose grants to help better define the impact of Medicaid expansion via the Affordable Care Act on patients’ outcomes; contributing to one of the seminal health policy debates of this generation.