JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – February is American Heart Month, a federally designated observance that encourages Americans to focus on their heart health. Coupled with that is the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women observance, which raises awareness for heart disease and stroke in women.

Although cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, it claims more women’s lives than all forms of cancer combined, the AHA says. Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women – yet most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented with education and healthy lifestyle changes.

“The No. 1 cause of death in the maternal population is cardiovascular as well,” said Alexander Nickens, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). “Most people don’t realize that pregnancy is a stressor. The incidence of cardiovascular disease is especially higher in the African American population across the nation because of preeclampsia and hypertension in pregnancy.”

Likewise, there’s an increased risk of SCAD in pregnant and postpartum women, Alexander Nickens said.

“And women who have problems during pregnancy are at increased risk later in life of heart disease. If they have hypertension during pregnancy, there’s a good chance they’ll have it 10 or 20 years later.”

The AHA recommends anyone having signs and symptoms of a heart attack to call 911 and get to a hospital immediately. The warning signs include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw and stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, being lightheaded or being nauseated.

Emergency care also is warranted for possible stroke. Those warning signs include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on just one side of the body; sudden confusion and trouble speaking; trouble seeing or walking; dizziness or loss of balance; and sudden severe headache.

Most signs and symptoms of heart attack are the same in men and women – but not all. That can leave some women dismissing symptoms they shouldn’t. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

“As a busy mom, I know that we aren’t always the best about taking care of ourselves,” said Jennifer Hopping, executive director of the American Heart Association Metro Jackson office. “We take care of our families, but we don’t get ourselves to the doctor for a checkup.

“One in three women will be affected by heart disease,” Hopping said. “When I talk to my friends, I say that this is absolutely a women’s issue, and to be aware of your body. If you’re not feeling well, don’t ignore the signs and symptoms.”

University Heart and the Office of Well-being are teaming to present heart-healthy activities for students and employees during the month of February. They include wearing red on Feb. 3, the day of a noon-1 p.m. walking event in the University Heart circle; a hands-only basic CPR class Feb. 7 from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Simulation Center on the third floor of the School of Medicine; and blood pressure screenings and pet therapy by the UMMC Business Office across from the University Heart back hallway, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 8 and Feb. 16.