SEATTLE, Feb. 9, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Hoping for that special heart filled with candy this month? That's not the only heart women should be thinking about during February, American Heart Month.
Heart disease was once thought of as a man's disease, but no more. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in women over 20, according to the American Heart Association. Heart disease kills more women each year than the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.
"One of the biggest problems is that often women don't first think 'heart attack' when they experience symptoms like tightness in the chest, fatigue, sleep disturbances, breathing difficulty and feelings of indigestion," explained Humera Ali, MD, cardiologist with The Polyclinic in Seattle. "They may blame it on stress or their stomach."
Compounding this problem is that according to a study by the National Institutes of Health, fewer than 30% of women report having chest pain prior to their heart attack, so they may not realize they're having a heart attack and less likely than men to seek immediate help.
Many of the risk factors for heart disease are the same in both men and women, according to the National Institutes of Health – conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight, physical inactivity, smoking and having a family history of heart disease. However, women have some unique risk factors.
"Women are more likely to get heart disease after menopause, in part because their body's production of estrogen drops," said Dr. Ali. "This changes our body's overall metabolism including that of cholesterol, thus raising our risk."
In the medical community, women's heart issues have historically been less likely to be recognized, more likely to be blamed on stress or other conditions. This is changing but needs to filter down to the women of our community so they themselves stop delaying seeking attention as new symptoms develop.
Lifestyle changes can help in the prevention of heart disease and also improve other conditions. Reduce risk through:
Nutritious diet – Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy oils – especially foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids. Minimize refined sugars, sodium, and saturated fats. The American Heart Association has some healthy and delicious heart-health recipes here.
Exercise – Not just for weight management, but to get your blood circulating, build muscles, and get oxygen through your system. You'll benefit from greater flexibility and stamina too, plus exercise helps reduce stress. The American Heart Association suggests exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week; but you'll also experience benefits even if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10 -15 minutes per day.
Stress management – Stress doesn't just impact your mind, it impacts your body – from headaches and depression to sleep disturbances and dependence on alcohol or drugs. Long term stress can also have adverse effects on your heart. Meditation and relaxation breathing exercises can help diminish the physical sensations of stress, and changes in lifestyle – something as simple as getting organized – can help alleviate some of the causes of stress. Shifting your outlook and attitude through self-talk can change your perception over time as well.
Quit smoking – Smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries — which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Monitor and manage conditions that could increase your risk, like blood pressure, cholesterol level, and diabetes. If your doctor prescribes medication, be faithful about taking it when and how often it's been prescribed.
Call the doctor or go to the emergency room with new onset of chest pain, pressure, tightness, heaviness, shortness of breath on exertion or change in exercise tolerance because of limiting fatigue. Not-so-obvious symptoms may include feelings of indigestion with exertion, or pass out spells.
About The Polyclinic
The Polyclinic is made up of more than 160 physicians, including internal medicine, family medicine, OB/GYN, pediatrics, and 23 additional medical and surgical specialties. Since its inception in 1917, The Polyclinic's mission has been to promote the health of its patients through high-quality, comprehensive and personalized care. For more information, visit www.polyclinic.com.
SOURCE The Polyclinic