Know the numbers- Know your heart by Shannon Traphagen

795,000, 40, 5, 60 and 73 billion.

Curious what these numbers mean? 795,000 is the number of people in America who suffer from a stroke every year; 40 is the number of seconds a stroke happens in this country; 5 is the rank stroke sits among causes for death in the U.S.; 60 is the percentage of women who suffer from stroke verses men, and 73 billion is the amount of money that Americans will pay out for medical care and bills due to stroke each year.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain why this is so important. With top notch health care and amazing research facilities and stroke facilities, we still have a problem with heart attack and stroke in the U.S. The number of women who will suffer from these diseases is staggering—60 percent higher among women than men. 55,000 more women suffer from stroke vs. men, and this number continues to grow.

The reason for these high statistics is multi-layered, but one of the biggest factors is lack of knowledge about symptoms, what they are and the difference of symptoms between men and women. Men tend to show more symptoms than women, especially with heart attacks. This “silent killer” among women still has telltale signs. Stroke includes dizziness, sudden numbness in legs, trouble understanding (communication) or sudden on-set of poor vision. Heart disease symptoms in women may include uncomfortable pressure, pain in the neck, back, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath or nausea. However, statistics alone do not tell the whole story.

There is a stigma attached to the words “heart attack” and “stroke”—it only happens to men, it only happens to obese individuals, it only happens to smokers. This, however, is wrong. While, yes, smokers and over-weight individuals are more susceptible to stroke or cardiovascular disease, they are not the exception. Lack of exercise, unhealthy eating habits, heredity, stress, and heavy drinking also need to be included in this list.

Let me share some other numbers with you—5’4’, 106, 102, 65. 5’4’ is my height, 106 is my weight, and 102/65 is my blood pressure. Now, these are personal numbers and I don’t normally share them with the masses. I’m am in my 30’s and live a very healthy lifestyle. I’m not overweight, I have a fairly petite frame and great blood pressure. So why am I sharing this with you? Because, my family has a history of heart disease and stroke. My maternal grandfather died of heart disease at 64, my grandmother is in a nursing home after having suffered a stroke, and my father had a quadruple bypass at the young age of 60. Thankfully my father is still alive and now doing very well, but knowing your family health history plays a significant role in proactively saving your own life.

As a woman, I pay very close attention to my cholesterol levels every year. I have become educated on the symptoms of heart disease and stroke and I take an active role in my health. Many have told me that it’s completely unnecessary for “someone like me”. That’s exactly why I’m sharing this with you—because it’s “someone like me” who is just as susceptible as someone who may be over-weight, maybe even more so. Why? Because the stigma’s attached to heart disease and stroke have us all thinking that we don’t fall into the “typical category”. What women don’t understand is that, for stroke especially, there is no typical category. Ask some of your closest friends if they know the percentage of stroke per year. I bet you most of them either don’t know or believe it’s higher for men.

Family history is not the only way women can proactively take control of their heart health; environmental factors also may contribute to heart attack and stroke. Leading scientists have found that, among women, stress and anxiety may play a significant role in increased heart disease. We internalize stress and very few find outlets to deal with stress. Medical research across the world has proven time and again that stress directly correlates to heart disease, cancer, digestive problems and many other health issues.

Proactively taking the time to learn about heart disease and stroke, asking questions about family history, having a conversations with a primary physician, finding ways to alleviate stress, quit smoking (if this applies), and eating healthier, are all steps that can be taken now to save the lives of those we love, including ourselves! Our heart works hard for us, it’s time we worked hard for it.

The American Heart Association | American Stroke Association of Buffalo/Niagara is a leading advocate for heart health and women’s health. Join them as they hold their annual “Go Red for Women” Reception, with a new component this year – the Live Streamed “Red Dress” Collection Fashion Show from NY Fashion Week, February 12th at Kleinhans in Buffalo.

We can prevent heart disease and stroke by taking action and getting educated. Visit GoRedBuffalo.heart.org for more information.

*Shannon Traphagen is Associate Publisher@ Buffalo Healthy Living

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