February is considered the month of the heart.
All of us need to be aware that:
- Your heart is your pump.
- Your heart beats approximately 100,000 beats in a day – more than 2.5 billion beats in a lifetime.
- Your heart will pump about 1 million barrels of blood in your lifetime. That could fill up about three supertankers.
- Approximately every 20 seconds, a person has a heart attack in the United States.
February isn’t a bad month to dedicate to increasing awareness of the number #1 killer of women and men in our nation – cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease refers to the gradual build up of blockage (plaque) in the inside lining of your arteries. Arteries are the “pipes” that blood flows through to feed an area of your body – carotid arteries supply the brain, coronary arteries supply the heart, renal arteries supply your kidneys, etc.
Over time, all of us develop plaque build-up and some narrowing of our arteries. The question is how much narrowing has developed? When the inside of an artery becomes narrowed, less blood can flow through that artery, and the organ that needs it gets less blood. This leads to symptoms of angina when it is occurring in your coronary arteries.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack is when one of your coronary arteries abruptly closes (usually a blood clot forms at the plaque area). Damage to that area of heart that needs blood begins. Over only a short period of time some of the heart muscle will die. Heart muscle that is dead from a heart attack will not function. The IMPORTANT thing to realize is that you can stop a heart attack – if you get help soon enough. We are fortunate to have in the North State some wonderful cardiologists and hospitals that are able to do just that.
How do I know if I am having a heart attack?
First you need to know the warning signs. Many heart attacks start slowly, as a mild pain or discomfort, and may even come and go. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
The most common symptoms are:
Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath. Often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.
Other symptoms. May include a cold sweat, nausea, indigestion, light-headedness, anxiety, palpitations or unusual fatigue.
It is especially concerning if these discomforts occur while at rest.
If you have these symptoms, do not ignore them. If a symptoms lasts for more than five minutes it should be considered an emergency, and 911 should be called.
Sheryl Hallstrom – RN, BSN, CCRN – is the Women’s Heart Center Program Coordinator at Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding. She can be contacted vat 530-244-5122 and firstname.lastname@example.org.