Every February, health organizations around the world use the Valentine’s Day theme to raise awareness of heart-related health issues. But as the month comes to a close, it’s important to remember that the dangers of heart disease aren’t going anywhere.
In the United States, for example, heart disease remains the leading cause of death among adults, accounting for 1 in 5 deaths annually. Encouraging people to take steps to improve their heart health during “Heart Month” is well worth the effort, but it’s even more important that patients are continually educated and equipped with resources to improve their cardiovascular health outcomes.
A big part of this effort should go into tailoring patient education to their needs based on their specific medical history and risk factors. Common cardiovascular diseases like heart failure, heart attack, or stroke often present as comorbidities to other chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cancer.
Common Cardiovascular Diseases to Know
While we often talk about heart health as an inclusive category, heart disease can actually describe a number of different conditions, including:
- Heart attack
- Acute or chronic heart failure
- Peripheral or coronary artery disease
- Congenital heart disease
Conditions like arrhythmias or congenital heart disease are generally not preventable. So preventative lifestyle changes that patients can make to prevent or stop the progression of heart disease, we’re generally referring to some of the most common conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, or coronary artery disease.
Risk factors for these types of heart disease include age, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. Let’s take a deeper look at heart attacks, also known as acute myocardial infarctions (AMIs). This is a condition in which a part of the heart muscle is suddenly deprived of oxygen-rich blood.
Taking a Closer Look at Heart Attacks and How They Are Treated
Most heart attacks occur because of a blockage in one of the blood vessels that supply your heart with oxygenated blood. Many patients who experience a heart attack also have coronary artery disease, which is characterized by a buildup of a sticky substance called plaque along the inner walls of their arteries. That buildup is called atherosclerosis.
Sometimes, plaque deposits inside the coronary (heart) arteries can break open or rupture, and a blood clot can get stuck where the rupture occurred. If the clot blocks the artery, this can deprive the heart muscle of blood and cause a heart attack.
Treating a heart attack means restoring blood flow to the affected heart muscle as soon as possible. This can happen in a variety of ways, ranging from medication to surgery. It’s extremely likely that treatment after a heart attack will use several of the following methods:
- Medications (e.g., blood pressure, antiplatelet, and cholesterol)
- Supplementary oxygen
- Percutaneous coronary intervention
- Coronary artery bypass grafting
While only the last treatment – an arterial bypass – is invasive, each of these treatments comes with its own risks. Often, patients that have a heart attack show known risk factors for many years before. By making a concerted effort to improve
Encouraging Patients to Adopt Heart-healthy Behaviors
There are several risk factors that are outside of patients’ direct control – including hereditary and environmental contributors – but at the same time, there are numerous ways that patients can reduce their risk of a heart attack:
- Quitting the use of tobacco products, especially smoking
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing your preexisting health conditions
- Taking medications as prescribed
- Reducing overall stress
Making these changes is often difficult for patients, especially since many of these lifestyle changes need to be maintained throughout the remainder of their lifetime. :That’s why healthcare organizations and providers need to tailor patient education to their holistic health needs and risk factors.
For example, the risk factors and observable symptoms that come with cardiovascular disease often vary between patients of different genders. Healthcare organizations can use real-world data (RWD) to better understand these differences and appropriately tailor education and messaging to match the disease progression, presentation, and risk factors of specific patient cohorts.
Making the Connection: Heart Disease and Women’s Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not only is heart disease the leading cause of default among women, but it’s also a more common cause of death for women than among the general population. One in four women will die of heart disease.
The most common heart disease in women is coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart are narrowed or blocked due to the buildup of plaque. Almost 4 out of 5 women between the ages of 40 and 60 exhibit at least one risk factor for CAD.
How Heart Attack Symptoms Differ by Gender
Some of the common symptoms of an acute myocardial Infarction (AMI) or heart attack often include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, insomnia, nausea or stomach discomfort, anxiety, sweating, lightheadedness, or even fainting.
Medical research over recent years has shown that the symptoms that present during a heart attack can differ significantly based on a patient’s physiological sex.
Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are less likely to experience chest pain or discomfort that feels like indigestion during a heart attack. Instead, they’re more likely to experience shortness of breath, fatigue, or insomnia before the heart attack begins. They also often have nausea and vomiting, as well as pain in the back, shoulders, neck, arms, or abdomen.
The below graph from PurpleLab’s HealthNexus platform shows the cohort distribution by age and gender among patients who have had an AMI.
Although the graph shows that more men experience an AMI throughout all age groups, it also shows a significant increase in heart attack occurrence among women between ages 35 and 75. The age group 70 to 74 is showing the highest number of heart attacks. With this PurpleLab HealthNexus data physicians can target groups that are mostly affected with education on how to reduce risk factors that can contribute to heart attacks.
How You Can Use HealthNexus to Drive Heart Health Awareness
By leveraging real-world data (RWD), healthcare organizations can deliver relevant, timely education on heart disease prevention and disease management for the patients who need it most. Learn more about how PurpleLab’s HealthNexus platform makes insights from RWD accessible to healthcare organizations that want to reach patients and providers around cardiovascular and other conditions.