Being in Charge of your Health

Heart disease and stroke are on the rise in the United States, and their prevalence in the Hispanic community is a growing concern. On average, someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 45 seconds. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association, the total percentage of deaths due to heart disease and stroke among U.S. Hispanic males was 28.2 percent versus 33.7 percent among women. The statistics are staggering. For example, over one quarter of all deaths are from heart disease.The risk of heart disease increases as you age, and there is a greater risk of heart disease in men over age 45 and in woman over age 55.

What can be done? Education, early detection and prevention can help saves lives, especially among Hispanic women. Heart disease and stroke are both caused by plaque that forms in the blood vessels and blocks blood flow to the heart and the brain. A stroke occurs when parts of the brain do not get the blood they need, causing damage to brain cells. Common symptoms include: sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg; vision problems; trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance; sudden speech problems; and severe headache with no known cause. The signs and symptoms of heart attacks can vary between individuals. Usual symptoms of a heart attack include, mid-sterna chest pain radiating down arms, usually the left arm or toward the throat, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and lightheadedness.

Seeking medical attention immediately can save your life. It is better to report any of the mentioned symptoms and be evaluated rather than having a heart attack or a stroke that can damage your heart. Seeking medical care on a routine base instead of when there is a problem will help you be in control of your health. If you experience any symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, seek immediate medical attention. Call 911 or have someone who is with you call for help. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations and take your prescribed medications. Be sure to know your medications, know what they are for and always carry a list of your medications with you.

In addition, when visiting a pharmacy to have your prescriptions filled, be sure to ask the pharmacist the following questions: Is this the exact drug that my doctor prescribed? If it is being switched … why? Will this switch impact my health? Has my doctor been notified of the switch? Is this the same dosage as my previous prescription?

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting heart disease and stroke. First, control your blood pressure. Have your blood pressure checked during your routine doctor appointments. Continue to take your blood pressure medications as prescribed. Be sure and exercise regularly. 30 minutes a day whether it is walking or working out at the gym. Exercising can also lower your blood pressure. Avoid tobacco use and quit if you smoke. Get tested for diabetes and, if you have it, keep it under control. Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and follow a low fat diet. Take your lipid lowering medications as prescribed by your doctor. Finally, eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables and avoid fast foods to maintain a healthy weight.

You need to be in charge of your own health, so make sure you are educated and ask questions to ensure that you are getting the medical treatments you and your doctor agree upon. Be sure to share information with others so that they too can be aware. But most importantly, take care of your health so that you can take care of your families. Love with your heart and also love your heart. Cuidate.

Veronica Morales, MSN, CRNP and Blanca Martir, MSN, CRNP are members of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.