A commonly asked question from many of our BlackGirlHealth.com readers has been how to prevent heart disease. BlackGirlHealth.com Publisher Porcha Johnson sought advice from Dr. Jose.Taveras MD. He is a non-invasive cardiologist practicing at Montefiore Einsten Center for Heart a Vascular Care in the Bronx, New York.
What are the 3 top things minority women don’t know about how to prevent heart disease?
Dr. Taveras: Most people are not aware of the risk they expose themselves to with a poor diet. Heart attacks in the United States are at epidemic proportions, yet, when you ask the average joe they tell you they had eggs and bacon for breakfast. How beneficial, easy and incredibly delicious a healthy diet can be is, I would say, the most important thing most people don’t know about preventing heart disease. Every morning I have raspberries, strawberries and bananas for breakfast, I look so much forward to them!, pick them up on my way to work. They are so super delicious!, and so super good for me too.
The second, is that most people think they have to go to the gym to be healthy and exercise. Very wrong again. What most doctors want you to do when they say exercise is don’t be a couch potato or sit all day long. Take the stairs, always, walk to work, walk everywhere if you can!, and if you live in a place you can’t walk to work or you have a desk job then take a half an hour walk every night; it will relax you, help you think clearer about you life and it will help lower your risk of having a heart attack, its that easy. Vitamins don’t help prevent heart disease. That argument has been put to a close. If you think you can replace eating poorly with vitamins, think again.
What are the symptoms of heart disease, that many over look?
Dr. Taveras: Great question, some of us think that the symptoms of a heart attack should be part of high school curriculum. A heart attack is not usually subtle Most people describe it like a bad discomfort in the center of the chest. Not pain, rather burning, pressure, tightness, ugliness in the center of the chest that lasts for more than 10-15 minutes. Sometimes it feels like it goes down the left arm, and makes your hand numb or tingly. Sometimes it can feel like you also have the same discomfort you have in your chest in your neck and jaw. It makes it difficult for you to breath, makes you sweaty, dizzy, and nauseous. If you ever feel anything that resembles this call 911. You will never be faulted for doing so.
Most women that have heart attacks feel the same thing, but also it can be different in women, presenting like a noticeable shortness of breath rather than a discomfort. Sometimes heart dieses can present differently, what we call heart failure, a condition that results when the heart stops working like its supposed to, feels like you are tired all the time, can’t walk like you used to because you are out of breath, and when you lay down at night to sleep you feel like you can’t catch your breath or wake up in the middle of the night starving for air. Symptoms of these kind should not be ignored and if you are experiencing them you should see your doctor right away.
Should people really take aspirin a day to prevent a stroke? If so how much?
Dr.Taveras: The short answer here is it depends on the kind of person who you are. Aspirin is not for everyone because not everybody is at the same risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. Young, healthy adults should not take aspirin as a general rule because like every medication, aspirin carries the possibility of side effects. For those people who are at a high risk of heart attack or stroke aspirin may offer protection. Conditions like advanced age, high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes are all taken into consideration when assessing a person’s individual risk. When the risk is high, most cardiologist will recommend 81mgs of aspirin a day.
Why are black women the most at risk for heart disease?
Dr. Taveras: The facts about how many women die of heart attack are quite remarkable actually, and I would dare anybody not to pay attention to them. Heart disease is the number one killer of African-American women, period. Heart disease kills more black women than all form of cancer combined, almost 1 woman dies of a heart attack every minute. If you ask the average women what are diseases they can relate to, and know they are at risk for many of them say breast cancer, or cervical cancer: but the reality is that 1 of every 31 women dies of breast cancer, and 1 in 3 die of a heart disease. Only about 43% of African-American women know heart disease is the most important reason why they die. Almost 50% of African-American women over the age of 20 have heart disease. If these statistics are not enough to get attention I’m not sure what is. And yes, more women die of heart attacks than men, this has been happening since the 80s and probably because of a lack of awareness.
And how much does stress, versus food and exercise play a part in heart disease?
Dr. Taveras: Stress is important but more important is to realize what causes heart disease. To be honest, its hard for me to imagine a life without stress because stress is part of life, plain and simple. Even those who have every possible means to support themselves and don’t have to worry about what most of us do stress out about something. So, the key is not to avoid stress to be healthy, but rather to stress in a way that won’t hurt us. When we look at people who worry well, what separates them from those who don’t is their ability to identify things they can change and work hard at it, and leave the thinks they have no control over alone.
So what we know for a fact causes heart disease? Poor eating habits, including diets that are high in animal source saturated fats, high intake concentrated sweets like sodas, smoking (terrible!), obesity and more important than obesity, obesity and the lack of any aerobic exercise all lead to heart disease. Keeping active. walking everywhere (rather than from the parking lot to the store and back) are extremely important too, because our level of fitness is an important predictor of our health. Stress will always be part of our lives, instead of trying to be health by avoiding it, focus on the things you do have control over like eating well, staying active and not smoking.