With Every Beat

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Do you know if you're at risk?

cardiovascular disease.

Diabetics don’t produce insulin, and without insulin, high levels of glucose build up in the blood. Glucose damages the walls of blood vessels and makes them ripe for the build-up of plaque, which constricts the flow of oxygen-filled blood to the heart. The heart, like any other muscle in the body, needs a healthy supply of blood to function. It struggles to perform when that flow is diminished.

Jenkins’ heart attack was caused by five blocked

Each year, about seven million Americans visit the doctor with complaints of chest pains. This universal symptom of a heart attack, chest pain, is not as common as was once thought. Some women, for example, don’t experience chest pain at all. Whatever the symptom, it’s best to seek medical attention right away.

arteries,, which required her to have quintuple bypass surgery. “Quintuple bypasses don’t happen a lot. You usually hear about a double, a triple,” says Jenkins. Her condition was so rare that doctors in the ER first thought it was a result of substance abuse.

“I showed up to the emergency room in a sweater, a pair of pants, and I had no socks on. I had no shoes on. I had no identification. I didn’t have a pocketbook,” says Jenkins. “They initially ran a toxicology test on me. They thought I was on drugs.” They ran an EKG test twice as Jenkins lay there for 45 minutes crying in pain and vomiting.

During her six hour-plus surgery, her heart and lungs were removed from her body and hooked up to a heart and lung machine, while arteries taken from her leg were used to replace the blocked ones in her heart. The incision made on her inner thigh, running from groin to calf, is painfully and slowly healing. “When I first came home, I couldn’t even fold my leg at a right angle. Sitting at the table was not an option.” Her healing process will be long and slow, and facilitated by several medications — Zocor for cholesterol, Toprol for blood pressure, aspirin, folic acid for circulation, insulin, water pills to reduce swelling in her leg, and thyroid medication.

Jenkins’ diabetes is impeding the healing process for her leg. “Diabetes takes a toll on your body,” she explains. Jenkins also suffers from thyroid disease, another illness that runs in her family. She was diagnosed 13 years ago after she stopped growing for a two-year period during her teens and inexplicably started gaining weight. Jenkins has recently tested positive for the Rheumatoid factor as well, which signals the possible onset of Rheumatoid arthritis, another autoimmune complication. She had also maintained high cholesterol levels since high school. “You don’t see a lot of high school kids on cholesterol medication, but at the same time, for preventative maintenance, it would have made some sense,” says Jenkins.

High cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, stress, lack of exercise, family history of heart disease, and obesity are all connected and are high-risk factors contributing to heart disease. More than 70 % of black women are

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