February is American Heart Month, and Melissa Costa Guardarrama has a few simple messages for Latinas. Listen to your body, don’t smoke and know the risks of heart disease and stroke.
Guardarrama, of Barrington, R.I., was just 30 years old when she suffered two mild strokes. Her heart became so enlarged it was functioning at only 15 percent. She thought she had the flu—her symptoms were stomach pains, sweating and vomiting. Finally, she went to a hospital in Providence. Doctors discovered a clogged artery, but concerned about her kidneys, nothing could be done at the time except for a medication regime.
Four years later, in 2011, Guardarrama experienced intermitten chest pains whenever she walked–even for only short distances. Fortunately, she again got herself to a hospital, where a series of blood tests revealed she had suffered a heart attack.
The results of an EKG didn’t reveal the heart problem Guardarrama recalls. She believes it is vital to educate healthcare providers and patients as to the importance of having blood work done to check cardiac enzyme levels.
Latina women play an important role in the family, and often put their own needs last, explains Guardarrama. They are so busy juggling so many duties they don’t pay attention to a pain here, a pain there. Too often, they ignore symptoms (in women, a heart attack often feels like heartburn).
“We are multi-taskers of the family,” says Guardarrama, who recalls she let two weeks go by without seeking medical help prior to her strokes.
Although Guardarrama’s mom, who is Dominican, has thankfully not suffered from heart disease, her father, a native of Puerto Rico, died of a massive heart attack in 2006. Guardarrama was diagnosed with hypertension at age 24 during her second pregnancy.
According to the American Heart Association:
- More women than men die every year from heart disease and stroke.
- Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.
- Only 1 in 3 Hispanic women are aware that heart disease is their No. 1 killer.
- Only 3 in 10 Hispanic women say they have been informed that they are at a higher risk.
- Only 1 in 4 Hispanic women is aware of treatment options.
- The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women than men, and are often misunderstood – even by some physicians.
As mother to five daughters, Guardarrama, now 38, hopes to educate them about heart health and ways to reduce their risks. She has instituted several lifestyle changes and is carefully watching her health. She stopped smoking, goes for checkups every six months and consistently takes her medications. She’s cut out fatty pork, and with the help of her husband John, has become a “smart-eater,” cooking traditional foods with healthier ingredients. Plus, she continues to be an “on-the-go person, always moving.”
The American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” program makes the following suggestions for preventing heart attacks and strokes.
Get Your Numbers: Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose.
Own Your Lifestyle: Stop smoking, lose weight, be physically active and eat healthy.
Raise Your Voice: Advocate for more women-related research and education.
Educate Your Familia: Make healthy food choices for you and your family. Teach your loved ones the importance of staying active.
Donate: Show your support with a contribution of time or money.
For information on heart disease and Latinas please visit: Go Red for Women/Hispanics www.GoRedForWomen.org