For women of African ancestry, the risk of heart disease and/or stroke is especially great. The American Heart Association 2006 statistics report that the prevalence of heart disease in African American women is 44.7% compared to 32.4% in Caucasian women. In fact, the death rate from heart disease is 35% higher among African-American women than among their white counterparts. Although there are little data available on the number of African Canadian women experiencing heart disease and/or stroke, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canadian note that African-Canadians are 1.3 times more likely to die from heart disease. The higher rates of heart disease among people of African descent, specifically the women is a cause for concern and suggest that more effective strategies are desperately needed to ease the burden for the disease.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is the disease of the cardiovascular system and any disorder that affects the heart’s ability to function normally. The most common heart disorder is coronary heart disease, which occurs when fatty deposits build up in the heart arteries. This build up limits blood flow to the heart muscle and can cause a pain in the chest, which is known as angina. Over time, coronary heart disease can lead to a heart attack. Some risk factors that increase a women’s risk for developing heart disease include overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, age, heredity factors, smoking and being physically inactive. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. You cannot control some of the risk factors, like heredity and age. But the other risk factors you can take control of, just by leading a healthy lifestyle and taking medication if needed.
For a Heart Attack
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the centre of the chest lasting more than a few minute.
- Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms
- Chest discomfort with lighheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath
- Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body
- Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye
- Sudden, unexplained severe headaches
- Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially along with the other symptoms
What can I do to lower my risk for heart disease?
Lower your blood pressure: Science has indentified high blood pressure as a major risk factor for heart disease and is also a risk factor for stroke. You can lower your blood pressure by following a heart-healthy eating plans, including limiting your salt intake and other forms of sodium. You should also have your blood pressure checked at least once a year and more often if you know you are at risk. If you have high blood pressure, you may need to take medication.
Get Active: Various studies show that lack of physical activity is a risk factor for heart disease and indirectly increases your risk of having a stroke. When you’re inactive and taking in too much calories, you are likely to gain an excess amount of weight. Do your body good and start doing some physical activity. The Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology recommend doing at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity (that’s 2 hours and 30 minutes) each week. You should also include flexibility and strength training in your exercise routine at least two days each week.
Maintain a healthy weight: Take control of your weight. If you have excessive fat, especially around your waist area you’re at higher risk for heart disease related complications, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes. To maintain a healthy weight and to prevent your chances of developing heart disease adopt a healthy eating plan. If you need any guidance on how to begin a good eating plan, ask your doctor or speak with a dietician or nutritionist. Some healthy eating tips include:
- Do not skip meals; breakfast is the most important meal of the day,
- Eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Consume at least 8 glass of water per day
- Broil or bake your foods and eat 2 servings of fish per week
Lower your cholesterol. American statistics show that nearly half of African American women total cholesterol is too high. Excess cholesterol and fat in the blood cause a build up in the walls of vessels that supply blood to the heart. Have your cholesterol tested once a year. You can lower your cholesterol level by following a heart-healthy eating plan, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking medication if needed.
Don’t smoke. If you stop smoking, your heart disease risk will drop by more than half. There’s no easy way to quit, but making a plan helps. You also can try an organised programme or a medication. Ask your doctor what’s right for you.
Reduce your stress level. Stress is a crazy thing. Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to manage and handle stress in a positive way. For one, staying relaxed, pacing yourself, and taking time out for you are great ways to keep stress in check. If your stress level is overwhelming or you need help on how deal with stress, don’t be afraid to seek guidance or therapy.
The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances are for developing heart disease or having a stroke. Controlling your risk factors will slow the disease, prevent a stroke and help prevent future problems. If you need more information or have questions contact your family physician.