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Road to heart health: Know your risk factors

By Allison Sundman
Media Specialist, Kaiser Permanente
02/06/2024 at 07:34 PM

Everything you do, every place you’ve been, everyone you know make you uniquely YOU. At Kaiser Permanente, we celebrate our patients’ and members’ individuality. Because we’re all different, we’re all susceptible to different health conditions. With heart disease and strokes causing more deaths in the United States than all forms of cancer combined, it’s important to know your risk of future heart conditions. 

Know your numbers 

Columbus Batiste, MD, regional chief of Cardiology for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, says education is the first step in taking better care of your heart. People who smoke, sleep poorly, experience high levels of stress, eat poorly, and have health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are at an increased risk of poor heart health. Your family’s medical history also plays a role in your health.  

“If you have a family history of heart attacks, or strokes, it is especially important for you to know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and keep them at healthy levels,” says Dr. Batiste.   

Know the signs 

Dr. Batiste also encourages everyone to know signs of heart issues, such as chest pain or pain in the arms, back, neck, or jaw; shortness of breath; nausea and stomach pain; and feeling weak or tired. Symptoms of heart problems can vary, and the same symptoms can also signal other conditions, such as heartburn or anxiety. Dr. Batiste recommends paying close attention to your body so you can recognize changes.  

“If you have a new symptom that is persistent and can’t be explained, seek advice or care from a health care professional, especially if it feels painful or even makes you uncomfortable,” says Dr. Batiste. 

Women face unique challenges  

Because heart research was historically done only on men, the symptoms women experience may not be recognized at first. The most common sign of a heart attack in both men and women is chest pain, but women are more likely to experience other symptoms as well, such as dizziness, nausea, tiredness, and back discomfort. Researchers also believe women are more prone to stress-induced heart conditions. 

“About 45% of women over the age of 20 have heart disease, and fewer than 50% of pregnant women have good heart health. I encourage all my patients — especially women and others with risk factors — to pay close attention to their health. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor if you notice any changes,” says Dr. Batiste.   

What to do in an emergency 


If you think you are experiencing a heart attack or stroke, call 911 or have someone drive you to the hospital. Don’t attempt to drive yourself, as driving during an emergency threatens your safety and the safety of others. If you don’t have allergies or other reasons not to, take some aspirin as well.  


Educating yourself on risks factors, emergency situations, and heart health can help prevent heart conditions before they occur.