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Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer in the United States and the No. 1 killer of women. One in three women will lose their life to heart disease. That’s one woman every 80 seconds. African-American women ages 20 years and older are disproportionally impacted with 49% living with some form of heart disease.

Heart disease is used to describe a range of diseases that affect your heart. The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke.

Take these important steps to protect your heart:

  1. Be aware of your risk.
    Having just one risk factor can double your risk for heart disease. Two risk factors can quadruple your risk, and three risk factors can increase your risk for heart disease more than tenfold.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors 

  • Age 55+
  • Gender
  • Family History
  • Race
  • History of Preeclampsia
  • Previous stroke or heart attack

Controllable Risk Factors

  • Smoking
  • Lack of Physical Activity
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Being Overweight or Obese
  • Diabetes & Pre-diabetes
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  1. Know your numbers.
    Even during a pandemic, it is important to continue visiting your primary care provide for routine health screenings. Knowing your numbers helps you stay informed about your heart health and your risk for developing heart disease. As a State Health Plan member, you and all covered dependents receive free preventative services. They are covered 100% for both 80/20 and 70/30 State Health Plan members! Review your 2021 State Health Plan copays. 

Important screenings shouldn’t be postponed!

  • Blood Pressure: high blood pressure makes the heart work harder and damages the blood vessels. Try to manage your blood pressure with healthy lifestyle habits to reduce your risk of stroke.
    • Normal blood pressure: 120/80 mm Hg or less
    • Elevated blood pressure: 129/80 mm Hg or less
    • Hypertension (Stage 1): 130-139/80-89 mm Hg
    • Hypertension (Stage 2): 140/90 mm Hg or greater
  • Cholesterol: When cholesterol levels are too high, your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke increase. LDL (“bad/lousy”) cholesterol causes a build-up of plaque in the arteries that can block the flow of blood to and from the heart. HDL (“good/healthy”) cholesterol can help lower LDL cholesterol and protect the heart. Triglycerides are fats that are found in the blood from extra calories that our body did not need or use. High triglycerides can signal a higher risk for heart disease.

Men Age 20 or Older

  • Total Cholesterol: 200 mg/dL or less
  • Triglycerides: 130 mg/dL or less
  • LDL (“Bad”): 100 mg/dL or less
  • HDL (“Good’): 40 mg/dL or higher

Women Age 20 or Older

  • Total Cholesterol:200 mg/dL or less
  • Triglycerides:130 mg/dL or less
  • LDL (“Bad”):100 mg/dL or less
  • HDL (“Good”): 50 mg/dL or higher
  1. Live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
    While you cannot change your uncontrollable risk factors, there are still things you can do to improve your controllable risk factors for heart disease. 
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Even losing a few pounds can improve your cardiovascular health. Focus on eating a healthy diet and increasing physical activity to lose the extra weight.
  • Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet: 
    • Eat more fiber! Fiber helps reduce cholesterol and manage weight. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans/legumes.
    • Choose healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, salmon, tuna and olive oil.
    • Limit or avoid unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats), from animal meats, dairy products, fried foods, processed foods and packaged baked goods.
    • Reduce your salt (sodium) intake. A diet high in sodium can raise your blood pressure. Reduce your intake by flavoring foods with spices and herbs, buying fresh or frozen whole foods rather than canned, and limit convenience foods.
  • Get Moving: Regular physical activity can help control cholesterol and blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week for health benefits. The best way to be consistent is to find something you enjoy. Campus Recreation has many on-demand and virtual group sessions for you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home. From now through March 12, all virtual group sessions will be available to employees at no cost!  Browse from the selection of yoga, barre, step, Zumba, lift, Pilates classes and more!
  • Stop Smoking: Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Start the conversation with your physician to understand what method of quitting may be the best for you to use. Tobacco cessation support is covered as part of your preventative State Health Plan benefits.  Tobacco cessation counseling is available at CVS MinuteClinics, certain Primary Care Provider offices, and by behavioral therapists. Nicotine replacement therapy is also available.
  • Manage Stress: Stress can have many health implications, especially for heart health. Creating new healthy habits can help you cope with stress. Some coping strategies include engaging in regular physical activity, accepting things you cannot change, getting organized, mindfulness and meditation and getting enough sleep.  Try a free 20-minute mindfulness meditation session  with the School of Medicine or a gentle yoga session with the Gillings School of Public Health.
  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of a heart attack for men and women and take action!
    Heart attack symptoms can be different for men and women.  Although chest pain is the most common symptom, chest pain is not always present are when a woman suffers a heart attack. Women’s symptoms may also be less obvious and should not be ignored.

Symptoms in Men

  • Squeezing chest pressure or pain
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
Symptoms in Women

  • Chest pain, but not always
  • Jaw, neck or upper back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Fainting
  • Indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue for no known reason

View Infographic – Heart Attack Symptoms: Men vs. Women

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms call 911 immediately! Do not drive yourself to the hospital!

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