- - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

During American Heart Month in February, efforts are made to raise awareness about heart disease — the number one killer of men and women across all demographics—and how to prevent it. Over the last decade, extensive efforts have been made to dispel the myth that it is a “man’s disease.” In fact, heart disease kills more American women than men every year!

Despite the increase in awareness, nearly half of women do not recognize that heart disease is their number one killer, taking more lives than breast cancer, stroke, or car accidents, combined.

Go Red For Women is the American Heart Association’s national movement to educate the public and encourage lifestyle modifications in order to save lives that are lost too early from heart disease and stroke in women. It is estimated that nearly 80 percent of deaths from heart disease and stroke can be prevented.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know: About Heart Health in Women — and how to put up the “red light” to stop premature deaths in ourselves, our mothers, our wives, our sisters, our daughters, and our girlfriends

What are the risk factors for heart disease in women?
Everyone should know their heart disease risk factors like the back of their hand, or Social Security number. For both men and women, they include: hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and obesity. However, there are a number of other factors that are more harmful to women than men:
• Smoking
• Stress and depression: both contribute to unhealthy lifestyles (inactivity, poor food choices, lack of sleep)
• Metabolic syndrome: a disorder of energy utilization and storage, diagnosed as having 3 out of 5 of the following medical conditions: abdominal (central) obesity, hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and elevated trigylcerides.

What are the symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks seen in women?
Chest pain, pressure (“an elephant sitting on my chest”), and squeezing are the most common symptoms of a heart attack in both men and women. However, women may not present with these “typical” symptoms that scream “I’m having a heart attack.” Instead, women may experience “atypical” symptoms such as:
• Pain and discomfort in the neck, shoulder, upper back, or abdomen
• Shortness of breath
• Nausea or vomiting
• Sweating
• Lightheadedness or dizziness
• Unusual fatigue
Knowing these typical and atypical symptoms, and making sure to seek emergency medical care can be lifesaving.

Why do we typically see an age difference between men and women and heart attacks?
Estrogen, a female sex hormone, is believed to be protective against heart disease by keeping arteries strong and healthy. After menopause, estrogen levels drop. That is why women generally experience heart attacks in their late 60s and 70s, almost a decade later than men.

It is important to realize, however, that estrogen is not bulletproof. And women of all ages should know their risk factors and typical and atypical symptoms of a heart attack.

What can women do to reduce their risk of heart disease?
• Stay active and exercise 30-60 minutes a day on most days of the week
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke!
• Eat healthy by decreasing your intake of saturated fats, cholesterol, added sugars and salt and increasing the number of fruit and veggies on our plates
• Take steps to manage stress and if you have hypertension, monitor it carefully and take your prescribed medications. Elevated blood pressure often does not have symptoms—even for years—until damage has been done. It is critical to catch it early and tame it.
• The American Heart Association is advocating that women schedule a Well-Woman Visit to “give a head-to-heart-to-toe” view of their overall health. The agenda during the appointment is to assess your blood pressure, cholesterol, and look for signs of heart disease, stroke and other illnesses that could increase your risk for heart disease.

As the federal declaration exclaims, “cardiovascular disease — including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure — is responsible for 1 out of every 3 deaths. It is the No. 1 killer of American women and men, and it is a leading cause of serious illness and disability.” Remember that cardiovascular disease symptoms may be different for men and women and understanding the symptoms can make a difference. It’s important to watch for symptoms and discuss concerns with your doctor (and too sometimes it can be found early with regular exams).

As we spotlight this – join our nation in taking heart and staying informed!! Friday, February 5th is The American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day. Let’s wear red to show our support for saving women’s lives. Together, we can change the facts because 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle change.

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