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Women and Heart Disease

Women list breast cancer as their number one health concern. Thatís a fact revealed by survey after survey. Yet hereís a fact many women donít know: the number one killer of women is heart disease. Statistics from 2002, the last year for which they are available, indicate that 356,000 American women died of heart disease, while 42,000 died of breast cancer.

A few more facts about heart disease in women are worth pondering. Women report their physicians donít often discuss heart disease with them. Women who present to a hospital with chest pain, shortness of breath, or other signs of a potential heart problem are less likely to receive clot-busting medications or undergo a procedure called angioplasty to unblock their blood vessels, and are more likely to die while in the hospital than men.

What can women do?

The first thing women need to do to help stem the tide of heart disease related deaths is to recognize that they are at risk. Hereís a short list of conditions that increase your risk for heart disease:

Much of heart disease research has been done in men, so the composite picture of heart disease risk known as the Framingham score applies largely to them. Women can use the above list to identify factors that put them at risk and discuss them with their doctor.

Cigarette smoking
Eating disorders
Environmental tobacco smoke
High blood pressure
Increasing age
Obesity and overweight
Oral contraceptive use
High triglycerides
Diabetes Mellitus
High cholesterol
Lack of exercise
Family history of heart disease
Post menopause
Diet
Stress
Excessive alcohol intake

Much of heart disease research has been done in men, so the composite picture of heart disease risk known as the Framingham score applies largely to them. Women can use the above list to identify factors that put them at risk and discuss them with their doctor.

Modify!

The positive side of the risk factor list is that most of these factors are modifiable, that is, you can take charge of your own health and reduce your risk of heart disease. That’s great news!

Some steps are obvious. Stop smoking, start getting more exercise, even in modest ways, reduce your alcohol intake, eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat, especially fatty meats or processed ones, such as bacon and sausage.

Some steps are going to take more work. You’ll need to see your doctor to have your blood pressure checked, and sticking with a daily high blood pressure medication can be challenging. But keep at it; there are many different types so finding one that works for you is possible. Your physician will also need to have your blood tested for cholesterol and triglycerides, and to help you interpret your results. Again, many different medications are available to improve both cholesterol and triglycerides, so keep at it. The heart healthy benefits are worth it.

Non-modifiable

There are some risk factors for heart disease you can’t change. These include increasing age, family history of heart disease, and being past menopause. When these factors exist it’s even more important to work hard at the things you can change, and to be vigilant about regular medical check ups as well as taking needed medications.

Signs and symptoms

Women need to be aware of another fact: frequently the signs and symptoms of a heart attack are different than they are in men. Chest pain is not as common for women, but more women will experience nausea, vomiting or indigestion related to a heart attack. They may also experience pain in the jaw, shoulder or back rather than chest pain, and weakness, fatigue and dizziness may occur.

If you suspect a heart attack, seek medical care immediately. Prompt intervention can reduce damage to the heart and make recovery much easier. Some medications can only be administered within a short period of time following a heart attack so it’s better to be examined and told there’s no problem than to wait too long.

 

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