Heart-Smart Info for Runners

It’s understandable why long-distance runners may think that they’ve outpaced heart-health issues.

How can someone who’s routinely running double-digit miles have anything wrong with their heart?  

The truth is that no one, not even a seasoned marathoner, is immune from having a cardiovascular condition.

Myth No. 1: “I’m not old, so I don’t need to think about my heart.”

People often assume that cardiac conditions are predominantly found in older individuals, but the data tells a different story: When it comes to medical matters of the heart, there’s only a 2% differential between 42- to 57-year-olds and 18- to 25-year-olds.1

Just 2%.

Anyone at any age is at risk of cardiac conditions, so it’s never too early to make heart health your priority.

Myth No. 2: “I take great care of myself, so I’m not at risk.”

Ask Jay King about that.

King was a poster boy for middle-age health. A triathlete who continued to compete into his late 50s, he was exercising daily and living right when he went in for a routine physical and learned he was suffering from atrial fibrillation, i.e., an irregular heartbeat. This came as a surprise, as he was totally asymptomatic.

King received great care, but the initial intervention didn’t work, and his heart stopped while he was cycling. He was lucky that a passerby saw him on the road, and he eventually received the long-term intervention that worked for him.

Myth No. 3: “Everyone receives the same level of cardiac care.”

Considerable research into the area of access to quality medical care has shown that conscious or unconscious gender, racial and ethnic biases are adversely impacting the vascular health of women and people of color.

Among other findings, women and nonwhite patients are less likely to be recommended for and receive interventions like cardiac catheterizations, with poorer clinical outcomes and experiences compared to men.2

For female patients under 50, the overall mortality rate during hospitalizations for myocardial infarctions (the medical term for a heart attack) was twice that of men in the same situation.3

Know an Unhealthy Heart When You See One

Whether it is you or someone nearby, the ability to recognize cardiac-related symptoms may be a life-saver. We all know the classic “chest grab” in movies, but the reality is far more nuanced and just as important to recognize.

Heart Attacks
Heart attacks occur when the blood supply to the heart is reduced or stopped, often because the arteries become blocked. Chest pain, pressure or even slight discomfort is the most common sign.

Others include:
• Aching pain in the arms, jaw, back, shoulders or stomach
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea or dizziness
• Severe fatigue that can last for days
• Breaking into a cold sweat

However, different people can have different experiences. Women are less likely to experience chest pain as the dominant symptom, and men are more likely to have cold sweats. Still others have no symptoms. The key is to get emergency help if there is any concern.

Heart Failure
Heart failure is a chronic condition that develops slowly and worsens over time as the heart struggles to pump efficiently. Some things to watch for:
• Shortness of breath
• Heart palpitations
• Nausea and fatigue
• Swelling
• Rapid weight gain
• Confusion

Even the sensation that you are less active than before may be a sign and should be discussed with a doctor.

Heart failure does not mean that the heart has failed — it’s just not working as well as it could. As noted before, getting to a medical professional as early as possible is important.

How do we know if we have a healthy heart? The same way we maintain a healthy heart: We pay attention to how it’s doing, respect it for the unsung work it does thousands of times every day and, above all, get it checked out by professionals.

1 Data on file at Abbott, December 2022
2 Lawton, et al., "2021 ACC/AHA/SCAI Guideline for Coronary Artery Revascularization: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Joint Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines," Circulation. 2021; 144:00-00.
3 Vaccarino, et al. "Sex-Based Differences in Early Mortality after Myocardial Infarction," The New England Journal of Medicine, July 22, 1991.

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