A mother and her daughter smiling

‘My Heart, Your Heart’, Who’s Looking After Yours?

Our hearts play a central role in our lives, often ruling our minds, sometimes broken, often full and the most used emoji on St Valentine’s Day. However, while we recognize the heart shape as a symbol of romantic love and affection the world over, we are less aware of the risks to our heart and how to read early warning signs in ourselves and in others.

And this is exactly what the World Heart Federation wants to tackle on World Heart Day on September 29. This year’s campaign, My Heart, Your Heart, invites everyone to ask themselves: “What can I do right now to look after My Heart… and Your Heart?” because cardiovascular diseases (CVD) affect everyone.

CVD represent the leading cause of death worldwide claiming nearly 18 million lives each year; that's one-third of total global mortality. It’s a reality that affects all countries, but especially low- and middle-income countries, where more than 80% of CVD deaths occur, affecting men and women almost equally.1 The consequences, however, don’t just stop with the patient, but impact the whole household as CVD contributes to household poverty due to catastrophic health care costs and high levels of direct payments.2

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular disease will remain the leading cause of death through 2030 and nearly 23.6 million people will be affected, mainly by heart disease and stroke.3

Recent scientific progress in treatment and prevention campaigns have helped reduce the number of cases in recent decades, but the latest studies show that many people, including those who have suffered a first heart attack, still do not think they have a high risk of CVD, and are therefore less aware of risk factors or the ability to react appropriately when they experience early symptoms.

Infographic and key figures about how to keep your heart healthy

Warning signs of a heart attack

A person having a heart attack may have the following symptoms!

 Infographic and key figures about how to keep your heart healthy

Waking up with nausea, shortness of breath or a pain in your back, neck or jaw do not necessarily cause concern and are easily dismissed as minor daily aches. Yet, they can be symptoms of an early cardiovascular event such as a heart attack. This is especially true for women.

Women are less aware of the risks than men

Many people consider CVD to be a male disease, but today women account for almost half of cardiovascular-related death4. In France for example, heart attacks in women under 50 have tripled in the last 15 years (Fédération française de cardiologie), while hospitalization for myocardial infarction in women under 65 increased by 25.2% during 2002-2013, according to the National Agency of Public Health (Ministry of Solidarity and Health).5

In a recent survey in the United States, however, only 13%2 of women were aware that cardiovascular diseases could be one of their biggest health risks6. In more than half of the cases, they didn’t connect their minor symptoms with a heart problem, so reducing their chances of being treated on time.

Women’s changing lifestyles, including a more sedentary routine, eating more fat and consuming more alcohol or tobacco, has reduced the gender gap in terms of risk of a CVD. In addition, women need to pay closer attention to the three key phases of their hormonal life: when their first contraceptive is prescribed, during pregnancy and at the onset of the menopause. The female hormone estrogen helps raise good cholesterol levels, which helps protect women, but once in the menopause as many women as men are affected by heart disease. If a woman suffers from diabetes or has raised levels of triglycerides (fat levels) that cancels out the positive effect of estrogen7. Women are therefore an important target for prevention and awareness messages regarding risk factors.

Risk factors more significant than genetics

While gender plays a role, diseases of the heart and blood vessels are mainly caused by unhealthy lifestyle or rel="noopener noreferrer" genetic diseases such as familial hypercholesterolemia. However, environmental factors also play a role in determining if an individual will develop heart disease or not.

People genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease can halve their risk of heart attack by quitting smoking, adopting healthy eating habits and taking up regular physical activity. Similarly, smokers who are obese or sedentary are more likely to have a heart attack than individuals with a genetic predisposition but without known risk factors; a positive message that confirms it is possible to prevent CVD.

Infographic and key figures about how to keep your heart healthy

After a first heart attack, secondary prevention is crucial

Of the patients who survive a heart attack 1 in 5 experiences a second cardiovascular event in the first year and about half of major coronary events occur in those who have previously been hospitalized.8

Once someone has had a first cardiac event, good aftercare with a healthy lifestyle and favorable environment are essential to prevent recurrence.

Compliance to treatment, however can be long and challenging, which is why educating and empowering patients to help them understand why a healthier lifestyle and adherence to treatment is so important. So much so that a Canadian team has developed a “3’ empowerment Technique” to ensure patient engagement in looking after their heart.

This secondary prevention is in line with the World Heart Federation's goal of reducing premature mortality from CVD by at least 25% by 2025.

Infographic and key figures about how to keep your heart healthy