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There's More to Heart Disease Than Heart Attacks

10 February 2017

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Heart disease affects Oklahomans at a staggering rate. While heart attacks are a dangerous risk of heart disease and one of the most common issues associated with it, heart disease encompasses so much more than just a heart attack.

Heart disease in Oklahomans

The number one killer in Oklahoma is not cancer or accidents or diabetes. It is heart disease, and the rates are alarming. Oklahoma has the third-highest death rate from heart disease in the nation. In 2010, more than one in four deaths in Oklahoma were because of heart disease complications, including but not limited to heart attacks.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health confirms heart disease is the state’s leading killer for both men and women, with more than 9,000 men and women dying from heart disease-related issues in 2012 (the most recent year studied). That same year, heart disease complications were a leading cause of preventable hospitalizations. Across the nation, more women die from heart disease than from any other cause, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease covers a broad range of issues

Heart disease is really a broad term that covers a wide range of heart conditions, from congenital heart defects and rhythm issues (arrhythmias) to heart valve issues, infections and a weak heart muscle. Heart disease also encompasses diseases of the coronary arteries and cardiovascular disease issues. These involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that prevent your brain and other organs from getting an adequate blood supply. Cardiovascular disease in particular is what typically includes conditions like chest pain (angina), stroke and heart attack, which all can involve blockage in blood vessels.

The most common culprit behind cardiovascular disease is a buildup of fatty plaque in a person’s arteries. This is why many heart disease-related hospitalizations are said to be preventable — because artery buildup is usually a side effect of correctable problems like smoking, not exercising, eating an unhealthy diet long-term and maintaining a dangerous weight.

Men and women typically experience the symptoms of heart disease differently. Women are more likely to be short of breath or have fatigue and nausea, while men are more likely to have chest pain. Neck and jaw pain, as well as pain and numbness in the extremities, are also side effects of heart disease that affect both men and women.

Other heart disease complications

Besides a heart attack, which occurs when a blood vessel of the heart gets a clot and the heart muscle is damaged or compromised, many other complications can arise from heart disease, including:

  • Ischemic stroke – when blood vessels are so blocked that blood flow to the brain is dangerously hindered.
  • Heart failure – when the heart can’t meet the blood supply needs of the body’s organs.
  • Aneurysm – when an artery develops a dangerous bulge. A burst aneurysm can be fatal.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest – often caused by arrhythmia, this occurs when a loss of heart function causes breathing to stop.

Take action to prevent heart disease

The worst time to discover heart disease is when it’s too late — that’s why it’s important to discuss any heart-related concerns you have with your doctor and to have regular screenings as you age.

Some types of heart disease, like congenital defects, can’t be prevented, but many can. Eating a heart-healthy diet low in salt and low in saturated fats, refraining from smoking, and staying active are the three most important things we can do to defend against heart disease. Excessive stress and alcohol consumption, especially in women, can also play a role in heart disease, so limiting these factors is important. Know the dangers of heart disease and work with your physician to have a plan of defense when it comes to protecting your heart.