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Cardiovascular Disease # 1 Killer in America!
Vilma Lora,
Greater Lawrence YWCA

One would think that cancer kills more people in the United States, judging by the amount of information regularly disseminated through the media about this disease.  However, most are not aware that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, more than cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and accidents combined.

According to the American Heart Association, in the United States, 71.3 million people are diagnosed with heart disease annually.  Statistics also estimate that 930,000 people die from cardiovascular disease every year—494,400 from coronary disease; 180,000 from cardiac arrest; and approximately 163,000 from strokes.

Although men and women from all ethnic backgrounds are affected by heart disease, women tend to have higher incidence rates than men.  While 33.1 million men develop heart disease, 38.2 million women are diagnosed with cardiovascular disease annually.  Moreover, statistics for mortality rates also reflect disparities among genders, with 483,800 women and 426,800 men expected to die from heart disease this year. 

In addressing this disparity, the American Heart Association launches an annual “National Wear Red Day” campaign on the first Friday in February, encouraging women, and men, to wear red and unite in this national movement to give women a personal and urgent wake-up call about their risk for heart disease.

As with all diseases, ethnicity impacts incidence and mortality rates for cardiovascular disease.  African-Americans lead incident rates (42.9%), followed by Whites (33.6%) and Hispanics/Latinos (29.3%).  On the other hand, Whites have the highest mortality rates, with 787,400 annual deaths, followed by the Hispanics/Latinos with 117,000, and African-Americans with 104,800. 

There are various types of cardiovascular diseases and conditions, which include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, congenital cardiovascular defects, and peripheral arterial disease.

According to a study released by the American Heart Association, the breakdown of deaths from the major cardiovascular diseases are: coronary heart disease (53%); stroke (17%); heart failure (6%); high blood pressure (6%); diseases of the arteries (6%); and congenital cardiovascular defects (1%).
Among the major risk factors—conditions or behaviors that increase your chances of developing a disease—associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes, overweight/obesity, and physical inactivity. 

These are considered modifiable factors, and thus people could make changes to decrease their risks.  Conversely, age and family history are the two non-modifiable factors, also related to the development of heart disease.

High blood pressure is a serious condition affecting our population.  Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. 

A normal blood pressure should be lower than 140/90, with 120/80 as the optimal number.  Because high blood pressure rarely exhibits symptoms, it is imperative that people have their blood pressure checked at least once every two years. 

Approximately 700,000 Americans suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year, constituting the third largest cause of death in the United States, behind heart diseases and cancer. 

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel becomes blocked or erupts in the brain, causing bleeding and resulting in the brain’s inability to control the parts and functions of the body for which that affected part of the brain is responsible. Stroke can cause paralysis and affect lan-guage and vision, a-mong other problems. 

High blood cholesterol is another major factor for heart disease, which, as high blood pressure, also raises a per-son’s risk of stroke. Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver in small quantities, essential for maintaining good health. 

This substance is also found in meat, poultry, fish, egg yolks, and dairy products.  When the cholesterol consumed is added to the one an individual produces, it leads to high cholesterol levels, and thus, your body is unable to get rid of it properly.

One should learn the warning signs associated with heart attacks and stroke as an important preventive step. 

Some of the warning signs associated with heart attacks are chest discomfort that last more than a few minutes or that is recurrent; discomfort in other areas of the body, which may include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath that may occur with or without chest discomfort.  Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness may also be experienced.

Stroke warning signs may include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, sudden confusion; disorientation, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden vision problems; loss of balance or coordination; and/or sudden severe headache. 

It is important to act fast and to call 911 at the first symptoms of heart attack and stroke, as every second counts in saving a person’s life.  

Unlike other illnesses, steps could be taken for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. 

The American Heart Association recommends reducing one’s cholesterol and blood pressure levels; being physically active by exercising at least 30 minutes/day; maintaining a healthy weight; consuming a diet low in fats and sodium and high in fiber, fruits and vegetables; avoiding tobacco products; limiting alcohol consumption; and stress management. 

Clearly, leading a healthy life is the best defense against heart disease and stroke.  It is our responsibility to make a commitment to a heart-healthy lifestyle, including incorporating good nutrition and regular exercise into our lives.  Also important is having regular medical check-ups.

For information and/or education on cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention, call the YWCA of Greater Lawrence at (978) 687-0331.  To learn more about YWCA resources, visit www.ywcalawrence.org.

Sources: American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, American Heart Association/American Stroke Association: “Learn and Live: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2006 Update”, Center for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics.

Vilma Lora is the Director of Women’s Services at the YWCA of Greater Lawrence.  Program services are made possible through funding from The Gillette Co., The Mass. Dept. of Public Health, The Boston Affiliate of Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, The McCarthy Foundation and Alfred E. Chase Charity Foundation.

              

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The February, 2006 Edition of the Valley Patriot
The Valley Patriot is a Monthly Publication.
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