According to the American Heart Association, “Every minute in the United States, someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister dies from heart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease (CVD). More than one in three women is living with CVD. Although heart disease death rates among men have declined steadily over the last 25 years, rates among women have fallen at a slower rate.
These are very staggering numbers and it stresses the importance of women lowering their risk for CVD’s including Heart Attack and Stroke. Heart disease is the most common cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Death from heart illness is much more common than death from breast cancer.
Information from the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute suggests that Coronary Heart Disease or Coronary Artery Disease may be caused by several contributing factors that can damage the heart which are:
• Smoking, including second-hand smoke
• High amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood
• High blood pressure
• High amounts of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes
• Blood vessel inflammation
Fortunately, women can take measures to identify signs and symptoms of heart disease and lower their risk factors for heart disease. Being aware of signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke are also key to getting the immediate treatment needed in this emergency situation. In a recent article from the Mayo Clinic, Heart disease in women: Understanding symptoms and risk factors, they outlined several factor’s identifying symptoms which may include:
• Pain or pressure in the chest
• Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
• Shortness of breath
• Pain in one or both arms, or inability to lift arms
• Nausea or vomiting
• Lightheadedness or dizziness
• Unusual fatigue
• Slurring of words
• Facial droop
They also identified risk factors for women including:
• Mental stress and depression
• Broken heart syndrome
• Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer
• Pregnancy complications
There are, however, many things that women can do to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease. These include:
• Stop smoking
• Exercise regularly
• Maintain a healthy weight
Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low fat or fat free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans-fat, added sugars and high amounts of salt.
Take medications as prescribed by your physician such as blood pressure medications.
Guidelines from the American Heart Association urge women to be more aggressive about cutting their cardiovascular disease risk. For some women this includes daily aspirin. Talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of taking aspirin.
Treatments for heart disease vary, and if your doctor suspects you may have heart disease, they will discuss a plan with you on how to best manage the disease. Your physician may order tests such as an EKG or Cardiac Stress Test which can be performed at the hospital. They may order a Holter Monitor device that monitors your heart and that you wear home for 24-48 hours and return to the hospital. These tests are designed to detect the presence or absence of abnormalities of the electrical conduction of your heart.
There are also newer forms of testing available, such as the extended cardiac monitor. These devices are worn home for 7-10 days and record your heart rhythm. The patient is also allowed to shower with these devices. The devices are then returned to the hospital where they are downloaded and interpreted by a physician. Forks Community Hospital recently tested one of these devices and we are hoping to offer this service at the hospital very soon.
In February of 2004, the American Heart Association launched the “Go Red for Women” program to increase awareness efforts about the effect of heart disease in women. There is an online risk assessment tool as well as women focused messages and events to inspire women to take action.
For more information, please visit: www.goredforwomen.org to show your support and get involved.
Doug Devine, Director of Cardiopulmonary, Forks Community Hospital
Disclaimer – This column is not intended as a diagnosis or recommended treatment of a specific condition. Answers are not a replacement for an individual medical evaluation. Individual health concerns should be evaluated by a licensed clinician.