Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. The challenges is that it does not affect all women alike, and the warning signs for women are not the same in men which can lead to misunderstanding.
Most believe that the cardinal sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain. However, 64% of women who die suddenly of heart disease had no previous symptoms. Women are more likely to experience shortness
of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in
the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
Know what your risk factors are!
Risk factors for heart disease that an individual has no control over include age
and family history. However, there are many risk factors that an individual
can adapt and change:
- Blood pressure (BP) - For women over 20 years, BP should be no higher than 120/80. High BP makes the heart work harder and causes atherosclerosis (this causes a narrowing of the arteries) which in turn creates more resistance for the heart to pump blood throughout the body.
- High cholesterol - There are different types of cholesterol. Some are good for our body and some are not. Know what your levels are and try to keep them in normal range. A total cholesterol level should be less than 200, but when it goes above 240 it will double an individuals's risk for heart disease.
- Smoking - Nicotine elevates heart rate and BP. Women who smoke have a 25% higher rate of developing heart disease than men and it causes pre-mature death by more than 10 years. Overall, smoking increases the risk of heart disease by 2 - 4 times.
- Diabetes - The incidence of heart disease is also 2 - 4 times greater among persons who have diabetes, even those with well-controlled blood glucose levels, than the general population.
- Weight - The increased risk of heart disease is proportional to the degree of obesity. Obesity is also often associated with high cholesterol and high BP. A body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 is considered obese. (To calculate BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, divide by your height in inches, then divide again by that same number of height in inches).
- Activity level - Individuals who are inactive also tend to have higher cholesterol and higher BP. By participating in regular moderate to vigorous activity, women can reduce their risk of heart disease by 30-40% and stroke by 25%.
Prevention is key to heart health. It has been proven to significantly lower the risk for heart disease when health promotion is achieved. This includes making healthy diet choices, getting appropriate exercise and sleep, as well as stress reduction. For example, choose a diet that is low in dietary cholesterol and total and saturated fat, that is also high in fruits and vegetables. Reduce caloric intake to achieve a BMI between 18.5 and 25. Reduce sodium intake. Develop and maintain at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Enroll in a smoking cessation program and limit daily alcohol intake to small to moderate amounts. Lastly, have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to help monitor your health preventatively and/or to manage the risk factors already identified.
Join me this Friday, February 6th, and "GO RED FOR WOMEN!" Increase your awareness of behaviors that are detrimental to your health. NOW is the time to be motivated and encourage lifestyle changes for health promotion to reduce the risk of heart disease!