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How black women can prevent heart disease

Alarming rise in number of young black women at risk of heart disease

Andrea King Collier, New Pittsburgh Courier | 3/31/2017, 5:51 p.m.
According the American Heart Association, nearly 50,000 Black women will die this year of cardiovascular disease. Despite all the talk ...

According the American Heart Association, nearly 50,000 Black women will die this year of cardiovascular disease. Despite all the talk about prevention and warning signs, more Black young women under 50 are suffering from heart attacks at greater numbers than ever before.

In fact, according to Heart Association (AHA) data, nearly 50 percent of all Black women, age 20 and over are living with heart disease and are at risk for heart attacks and strokes. AHA says that women under 50 also have more severe heart attacks, and are more likely to die from them than their male counterparts.

Ivy Tagger, Ph.D., was fortunate enough to recognize her symptoms of a heart attack when she was just 48 in 2015. “I got very hot and I thought I was having my first hot flashes,” she tells NewsOne. But also had an overall feeling of malaise.

“The middle of my chest hurt, I had pain going down my right arm and pain in my back on the left side,” Tagger says. At one point, she was having difficulty walking.

As fate would have it, Tagger had recently updated her CPR certification a day before having a heart attack. “I recognized the signs of a heart attack and called emergency services,” she says. “I am glad I have been CPR certified for years. Otherwise I may not have taken the appropriate actions.

“At first they didn’t think I was having a heart attack based on my age, activity level and lifestyle,” Tagger says. “But it is important that Black women, insist that they get all the tests to rule out a heart attack.” Once it was determined that Tagger was indeed having a heart attack, the medical team performed a procedure to repair a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) and gave her two stents to keep her arteries open.

Tagger is lucky. Medical experts say most people miss the warning signs that present before an actual heart attack. The symptoms also tend to present differently in women than in men.

Don’t Ignore Your Body

According to the American Heart Association, young women should be aware of:

Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.

Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Tagger says, “at first I thought this heart attack just came out of nowhere, but as I took a more introspective look weeks later, I realized there were many signs.” She says she was extremely tired and had days when she had to force herself out of bed. “No matter how much rest I got, I was still tired,” Tagger says.