The Center for Cardiovascular Health at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is committed to increasing awareness of heart disease in women within our community. Many women mistakenly think they are more likely to die prematurely from cancer but the truth is heart disease kills far more women. One in four women will die of cardiovascular disease as compared to 1 in 31 from breast cancer. The top three risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high LDL "bad" cholesterol and smoking.
Symptoms of a heart attack may present differently in women than in men. Although women often describe chest discomfort, they are more likely to have other presenting symptoms with or without chest discomfort such as shortness of breath, severe fatigue and weakness, dizziness or fainting, or jaw, upper back or arm discomfort. Approximately 2/3 of women who died suddenly of heart disease have no known history of symptoms. So it is very important to practice prevention by living a healthy lifestyle and limiting stresses.
We are seeing a rise in heart disease in younger women ages 35-54 which is likely related to weight gain. Currently, two out of three women in the United States are either overweight or obese. Having extra body fat is directly related to the development of heart disease. It causes increased blood pressure, promotes diabetes and increases your cholesterol, among other health concerns. The good news is that heart disease is preventable in most women and treatable if recognized.
The medical field has made remarkable progress over the past two decades in identifying preventative measures and effective treatments for cardiovascular disease. This has occurred though efforts directed at public education regarding prevention of heart disease, the development of sophisticated diagnostic and treatment options and many very good medications. The results have been an overall decrease in death rates from cardiovascular disease.
I encourage you to take charge of your risk factors for heart disease by:
1. Seeking medical attention if you have chest pressure, particularly with activity. It is often described as a squeezing, burning or pressure sensation in the chest that lasts for more than a few seconds. 2. Eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer carbohydrates, less red meats and less high fat foods. Practice portion control. Limit salt intake to no more than 2000 mg a day. Most extra salt is found in packaged foods, so read the labels. 3. Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day or abstinence. 4. Stop smoking. Smoking causes inflammation and cellular damage throughout your body. 5. Treat your depression. Depression increases your chances of getting heart disease. 6. Lose weight, if you are overweight. 7. Regular exercise (it is better than any medicine we can offer you). We recommend aerobic exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day most days of the week and strength training two days a week (very important). 8. Work with your health care provider to treat your high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
There is a lot that women can do to take control of their health and significantly reduce their chances of heart disease.
Phaedra McDonough is a Licensed Nurse Practitioner for the BMH Center for Cardiovascular Health. She can be reached by calling 802-275-3699.*