February is American Heart Month, and each year health care professionals across the country take time to raise awareness about heart disease. It’s the perfect opportunity to think about heart health, and the choices individuals can make that will lead to a lifetime of improved health.

Heart disease affects people in different ways and living a healthier lifestyle and knowing the signs are the best weapons against it.  In 2016, cardiovascular disease accounted for 1 in 3 deaths, according to the American Heart Association, and coronary heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

In the spirit of the month, Dr. Cindy Codispoti, DO, fellowship trained in cardiovascular disease, part of Atlantic Medical Group Cardiology at Hackettstown and on-staff at Hackettstown and Morristown Medical Centers, discusses heart disease and how to take necessary precautions against it.

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Q: Are there different types of heart disease?

A: Yes, there are numerous types of heart disease. These include, but are not limited to, coronary artery disease (typically blockages in the heart arteries), heart failure, abnormalities of the heart valves, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and congenital heart disease (abnormalities of the heart structure one is born with).

Q: Are men and women affected by heart disease in the same way?

A: Heart disease does not affect all people in the same way, and there are certainly gender differences as well. Some of these differences include the timing of presentation with heart disease. For example, men are at higher risk for developing coronary heart disease earlier in life than women. However, there is a higher incidence of women developing coronary heart disease later in life. Also, symptoms of coronary artery disease may vary more in women than in men. Women are less likely to have classic symptoms of chest pain or pressure beneath the sternum radiating to the jaw or left arm.

Women may be more prone to heart failure than men, especially as it relates to coronary artery disease. Additionally, women are more prone to a few specific diagnoses, such as coronary artery spasm, which can cause chest pain or even heart attack. Women also are more likely to develop an entity called ‘broken heart syndrome,’ which is acute heart failure that presents like a heart attack. This is typically triggered by a significant life stressor, such as the death of a loved one. We see this more in females than males.

In addition to gender differences, we are increasingly aware that ethnic differences affect risk of heart disease as well, and these must be strongly considered.

Q: Is there any way to tell between bad indigestion and a heart attack?

A: This is not so clear, unfortunately. Certainly, if symptoms are directly related to eating and easily relieved with antacids, the symptoms may be due to acid reflux. However, if patients with risk factors for heart artery disease (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, family history, and older than 45 in males and 55 in females) are experiencing these symptoms, they should seek expert advice from their doctors.

Q: Do you have any advice for women who are concerned with heart health?

A: Yes. Take ownership of your health. Choose a clean and healthy lifestyle to protect your heart. Our world is full of stressors. Find healthy outlets for that stress and emphasize daily exercise. Prioritize heart health. As natural caregivers, this can be easy to brush off, making everyone else a priority. Lastly, know that there are experienced cardiologists in the community who are happy to serve you if you do have problems with your heart or risk factors for heart disease.

Visit atlanticmedicalgroup.org for more information.