HER HEART: Women and Heart Disease

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It’s no secret women are caregivers and multitaskers. We juggle family, careers and everything in between. Whether we’re giving 110 percent at home or on the job, we strive to be everything to everyone. But when it comes to our own health, we may be dropping the ball.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, killing 1 woman every 80 seconds. But the troubling part is that most women know that heart disease is the foremost cause of death, but few feel it is their greatest personal health risk, often citing breast cancer as a bigger fear.

Heart disease doesn’t affect all women the same, and the warning signs for men and women differ too. Women typically experience poorer physical and mental health preceding their heart attacks compared to similarly aged men who have heart attacks. Women are also more likely than men to have other conditions linked with heart disease, such as diabetes, obesity and depression.

Treatment of heart disease for women and men is generally similar; it can include medication, angioplasty with stenting or bypass surgery. Angioplasty, while effective for both men and women, is not generally offered to women who do not have chest pain. If heart symptoms are caused by coronary disease, females are generally advised to make healthy lifestyle changes and are prescribed medication.

The good news is that when it comes to preventing heart disease, we can take control. Whether you have a diagnosis or not, it’s never too late to make a few changes and start living a heart-healthier life. Besides getting regular checkups from your doctor, there are many risks and lifestyle modifications to consider.

Blood Pressure
Called the silent killer, high blood pressure doesn’t have symptoms, so get checked regularly. If it is a bit out of range, get any needed prescribed medication from your doctor, lay off the sodium, and keep your numbers in check.

Get Moving
According to the American Heart Association, women ages 18 to 55 are generally less healthy and have a poorer quality of life than similar-aged men before suffering a heart attack. Aim to get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity each week. It’s okay to spread your exercise out during the week, and break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day, but keep moving. Sitting for long periods of time has been proven to increase the risk of early death.

Don’t Light Up
If by some chance you are still sucking down nicotine, STOP! Smoking not only reeks but the side effects stink as well. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day double their likelihood of heart attack over non-smokers, and the longer you smoke, the more likely you are to get heart disease.

Sawing Logs?
If your partner says you’re snoring, take note. Sleep apnea happens to one in five people. When you stop breathing, oxygen levels drop, and the body responds by releasing adrenaline, a stress hormone. When this happens over and over, adrenaline levels remain high. If it’s not properly treated, sleep apnea can cause heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Manage Your Liquor
Moderate drinking, about one drink a day for women, helps protect from heart disease, but overindulging can cause irregular heart rhythm. Saving up all your moderate drinks for the end of the week isn’t helpful. Moderation is best.

Get Heart Happy
Studies show that depression, which is more likely to occur in women, increases blood pressure and may alter the heart’s ability to beat properly. Stress is a cardio culprit, too, so increase communication with those close to you and expand your girl squad! A ten-minute phone call with a good friend puts you in a better mood immediately.

Don’t Have a Heavy Heart
Remember the two Cs. Watch your calories and cholesterol. Foods high in fat and calories are more likely to stick to your ribs, not to mention your heart’s arteries.

Weight it Out
If you carry too much fat, especially if your body is apple-shaped and the excess pounds hang around your waist, you are more at risk for heart problems. Check your weight regularly and cut back on sugar, carbohydrates and alcohol.

Take Care of Those Teeth
Brush and floss. Many women don’t realize that keeping gums healthy is good for heart health. If bacteria from gum disease enter your bloodstream, the bad stuff can travel to other organs and the heart could suffer the consequences.

While you’re busy juggling the ins and outs of everyone else’s life, remember what Mom always said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Take care of yourself; your heart will thank you for it. ■

Sources: goredforwomen.org, nhlbi.nih.gov, cdc.gov and cardiosmart.org.