February is American Heart Month. It's a time to raise awareness of cardiovascular health.
The annual effort by the American Heart Association also comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly not been kind to our hearts.
For example, a recent survey by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association shows that U.S. adults are reporting the highest stress levels since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you have underlying heart issues, contracting COVID-19 is especially dangerous. In fact -- even for healthy individuals -- the virus may directly invade or inflame the heart muscle and potentially cause damage through lack of oxygen levels, according to doctors at Harvard Medical School.
And unfortunately, local health care professionals are seeing another side effect of the virus among the cardiovascular community.
New data from the American Heart Association shows more than 1 in 4 adults – about 28% – experiencing a heart attack or stroke would rather stay at home than risk getting infected with covid-19 at the hospital. The survey also shows adults who are at risk for cardiovascular disease or stroke are more worried about covid-19 than having a heart attack or stroke.
Dr. Carl Horton, a cardiologist for Texas Health Cleburne and Texas Health Physicians Group, said heart attacks and strokes don’t stop for COVID-19. He said heart attack and stroke symptoms are always urgent and the hospital is still the safest place to be.
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“They should not delay or worry about contracting COVID-19 in the hospital or emergency room. You're still more likely to die of a heart attack instead of COVID,” he said. “In the cardiology field, we have a saying called ‘time is muscle’. So if you wait in going to the hospital when you have an acute event, then you can suffer sudden death at home or suffer severe congestive heart failure and lose a lot of heart muscle.”
There's good reason why Horton says you should take your heart seriously, especially for women:
- Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the No. 1 killer of women, claiming the lives of one in three women. It claims more women’s lives than all forms of cancer combined.
- Women, especially Black people and Hispanics, are disproportionally impacted by heart disease and stroke.
- CVD kills one woman about every 80 seconds.
- New data suggests younger generations of women, Gen Z and Millennials, are less likely to be aware of their greatest health threat, including knowing the warning signs of heart attacks and strokes.
- Cardiovascular disease is the no. 1 killer of new moms.
- Pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are rising at an alarming rate — and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause.
- More younger women than men are having heart attacks.
Doctors said awareness is critical. Starting at age 20, women should consider getting screening for cardiovascular diseases and learn about their family health history.
According to the American Heart Association, 80% of cardiac events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes such as moving more, eating smart and managing blood pressure.
“With COVID, sometimes people eat more because they’re at home. Most patients that I’ve seen have gained anywhere between five and 15 pounds I would say since Covid started,” said Horton. “The food that we take in, it plays a bigger role in our health than a lot of people realize.”
Experts say it’s also important to know your numbers. Discuss the following personal health numbers with your doctor to help determine risk for heart disease:
- Total Cholesterol
- HDL (good) cholesterol
- Blood pressure
- Blood Sugar
- Body Mass Index (BMI)
Data shows around 90% of women have one or more of those risk factors for developing heart disease.
To show support for these issues and to encourage women to be aware of the risk factors for heart issues, people are encouraged to wear red this Friday for National Wear Red Day.