You know that feeling? You’re looking at that person across the room…and suddenly you feel a little lightheaded? Maybe a little short of breath? Well, besides being in love, you could also be experiencing a heart attack.

Cardiovascular disease, which includes strokes, hypertension, and other diseases involving the circulatory system, is now the highest cause of death for all Americans. In 2006, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that heart disease was the second leading cause of death, after cancer, in the API community.

Dr. Glen Pacio, president of the Filipino American Physicians of Washington, said factors that lead up to cardiovascular disease in APIs are similar to those as with the general population, including diet, obesity, family history and smoking.

“Another contributing factor would be the higher prevalence of diabetes in the API community, since diabetes predisposes one to cardiovascular disease,” he added.

Today, heart disease causes 34.5 percent of API male deaths and 34.8 percent of all deaths for women in the API community according to a study done by the American Heart Association in 2009. A 1994 study by the CDC showed that heart disease was more common in some Asian subgroups than others.

Dr. Pacio said some reasons cardiovascular disease is higher in API populations include genetics, nutritional differences and “what has been more importantly emphasized is the disparity in health care delivery…such as access, community awareness, and communication problems.”

For instance, eating out a lot can be a contributing factor—even if you are eating the same foods as at home.

Dr. Pacio said said there was some evidence there was a difference in “the prevalence of cardiovascular disease between first and second-generation APIs.” According to Pacio, this was due to the fact that second-generation APIs become more Americanized in their diets, lifestyle and attitudes.

“Signs that people should look out for include chest pains, shortness of breathduring activities, leg swelling, and palpitation…[and for those diagnosed], treatment for cardiovascular disease includes blood pressure control, treatment for high cholesterol and aspirin or other drugs to prevent blood clots,” Dr Pacio said.

Since heart disease runs in families, those who have had relatives with heart disease should go see their doctor and get regular care to prevent heart disease. You should also know the five signs of a heart attack: (1) shortness of breath, (2) pain or discomfort in the chest or arms, (3) pulsating pain in the jaw, neck or back, (4) feelings of weakness or light-headedness, and (5) radiating pain in the arms or shoulders.

“Various risk factors [such as] blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol should be adequately controlled to decrease the risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney diseases…through regular blood pressure checks. People should also have their fasting blood glucose checked to see if they have diabetes…and treat high cholesterol to decrease heart attacks and strokes,” said Dr. Pacio “If language barrier is a problem, there are several providers that speak their own dialect.”

A study titled “Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2008” conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services found that “when results are considered by a single race without regard to ethnicity, Asian adults were less likely to have ever been told they had any type of heart disease than were White adults. And Asian adults and White adults were less likely to have been told they had hypertension compared with black adults.”

Those interested in learning more about how to prevent cardiovascular disease can go to the health fairs such as the Filipino-American Physicians of WA’s annual health fair held in the Seattle Center. Dr Pacio mentioned that hospitals usually organize information sessions on various diseases including cardiovascular disease. Two on-line resources Pacio highlighted are the CDC website and Web MD. The American Heart Association is a good resource for those looking to connect with health care providers locally, as are the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) and the International Community Health Services (ICHS).

“We need to increase awareness of the various diseases that disproportionately affect the API population. People have to be proactive in their own healthcare and should discuss their health care goals with their doctors,” said Dr. Pacio.

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