By Jonah Chester
Virginia News Connection
February is American Heart Month, and doctors and heart health groups are urging Virginians to take stock of their health after a difficult two years.
Dr. Amey Kulkarni, cardiologist, Kaiser Permanente and American Heart Association Greater Washington Region board member, said hospitals have seen an uptick in heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular conditions since the pandemic began.
He explained the increase in cases can be attributed to a number of factors, including more stress and a pivot to a work-from-home, sedentary lifestyle.
“During peak pandemic times, there was a lot of delayed care,” Kulkarni pointed out. “People didn’t go see their doctor because they were worried about the potential for getting COVID. Especially early in the pandemic, if you remember, there was a lot of delayed care.”
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is more likely to kill women than men. One of every three women will die from heart disease, and overall it’s the number one killer of Americans annually. The AHA’s Go Red for Women and Reclaim Your Rhythm campaigns have resources for folks looking to live a healthier lifestyle and spot early signs of heart disease.
The organization noted Black women are at an even higher risk for heart disease; half of all Black women over twenty have some form of heart disease.
Kulkarni noted, broadly, the roots of the disparity lie in systemic racism, but specific causes have proved tricky to nail down.
“The pandemic itself has had a disproportionate impact on women,” Kulkarni reported. “And so we want to make sure that this month we are attending to the symptoms and the risk factors that women can have for cardiovascular disease.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of a heart attack can include, among other things, chest pain, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath.
Kulkarni advised people to reach out to their doctors sooner rather than later for mild symptoms, but people should call 911 if their symptoms are severe or debilitating.