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Protect your heart. Know the signs.

February 14, 2022 | Heart Health

A woman dressed in red, Claudia Norman, smiles at the camera

The scariest moment of Claudia Norman’s heart health journey came a few years ago, when the 53-year-old awoke in atrial fibrillation — an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure.

“You realize that your heart is racing and you're not able to slow it down,” she says.

Claudia’s heart troubles went undiagnosed for most of her life, until a congenital heart defect specialist finally diagnosed a rare heart abnormality called a coronary cameral fistula. “I finally felt like I could exhale. I had the biggest weight taken off of my shoulders,” she says.

In May 2019, Claudia underwent open-heart surgery to repair the fistula and also had a procedure to treat her atrial fibrillation.

Cardiovascular disease continues to be the number one cause of death for women, says Dr. Michelle Albert, President-elect of the American Heart Association (AHA) “Heart disease and vascular disease claim the lives of more women than all forms of cancer combined.”

That’s why CVS Health sponsors the AHA’s Go Red for Women movement every February during American Heart Month — empowering women to take charge of their heart health.

“Our ongoing commitment to the Association will allow them to continue their important work in addressing a myriad of inequalities experienced by women, particularly related to health care access,” explains Eileen Howard Boone, SVP, Corporate Social Responsibility & Philanthropy.

Solving health inequities

Women of color are disproportionately affected by health inequities. One in two Black women suffer from cardiovascular disease, says Dr. Albert. Additionally, cardiovascular disease contributes to the country’s maternal health crisis as the number one cause of pregnancy-related deaths. Black women have three to four times the mortality during pregnancy and beyond compared to women of other racial and ethnic groups, she adds.

Heart disease and stroke can also affect a woman at any age. On top of all of that, there’s the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on women who have taken on more caretaking duties at home.

Taking care of your heart health

The best advice is to learn as much as possible about your own health risks. Know your blood pressure, body weight and cholesterol numbers. Eat wisely: brightly colored vegetables and fruit. Limit carbs and plan protein-rich meals and exercise.

“Be your own best advocate,” says Claudia. “If you don't have the strength to speak up, look for someone that can advocate on your behalf.”

Heart attacks: Women's symptoms are different from men's

What to watch out for:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or pain in the chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)
  • Cold sweats, nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness