Women and Heart Disease

Believe it or not, the number one killer of women is heart disease, formerly thought to be a “man’s disease”.

What is heart disease? 

Your heart is a muscle that gets energy from blood carrying oxygen and nutrients. Having a constant supply of blood keeps your heart working properly. Most people think of heart disease as one condition. But in fact, heart disease is a group of conditions affecting the structure and functions of the heart and has many root causes. Coronary artery disease, for example, develops when a combination of fatty materials, calcium and scar tissue (called plaque) builds up in the arteries that supply blood to your heart (coronary arteries). The plaque buildup narrows the arteries and prevents the heart from getting enough blood (Heart & Stroke Foundation).

Why does heart disease affect women?  Women are more likely than men to have coronary MVD. Many researchers think that a drop in estrogen levels during menopause combined with other heart disease risk factors causes coronary MVD.  The disease affects women differently than it does men.  This can cause many women to be misdiagnosed.  Here are the differences:

  • For women, heart disease symptoms may be subtle – but when a heart attack
    strikes, women are more likely to die than men. Women are also at twice the risk
    of death following open heart surgery, compared to men
  • Heart damage is more likely to occur in women when the small blood vessels become obstructed from plaque.
  • Women are also more likely to maintain heart function after a heart attack, unlike men whose heart muscle becomes weaker; 38 percent of women die from heart attack, making heart attack more lethal for women than men.
  • Women are also more likely to have a second heart attack within six years of their first one, unlike men.
  • Women are also less likely than men to have obstructive coronary artery disease.

Women are also more likely than men to have a condition called broken heart syndrome. In this recently recognized heart problem, extreme emotional stress can lead to severe (but often short-term) heart muscle failure.  Broken heart syndrome is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy (KAR-de-o-mi-OP-ah-thee) or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Doctors may misdiagnose broken heart syndrome as a heart attack because it has similar symptoms and test results. However, there’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome, and most people have a full and quick recovery.  Researchers are just starting to explore what causes this disorder and how to diagnose and treat it. Often, patients who have broken heart syndrome have previously been healthy.

Women’s College Hospital in Canada where I go offered the following differences between the sexes and the effects of heart disease:

Women Tend to Develop Heart Disease at a Later Age

Women tend to develop heart disease later in life because they are often (though not always) protected by high levels of estrogen until after menopause. Men’s risk of developing heart disease increases in their 40s. A woman’s risk of heart disease becomes similar to a man’s risk about 10 years after menopause.

Women Experience More Silent Heart Attacks

Women experience more silent heart attacks than men. That is, a woman may not know she has had a heart attack. Women are also more likely to have a single artery narrow whereas men tend to have multiple arteries narrow.

Women Are More Likely to Be Suffering from Other Health Problems

Women are more likely to be suffering from other health problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, when they have heart problems.

Women Do Not Always Get the Health Care They Need

Heart disease is under-detected in women. Once women do seek treatment, doctors do not always recognize their symptoms as the symptoms of heart disease. Women are also less likely to be referred to a heart specialist, to be hospitalized, to be prescribed medication or other treatment, or to be referred for exercise testing. As a result, women do not always get the health care they need.

I find it unsettling that women are not always getting the health care they need when they seek treatment for heart disease.  They should receive the same considered as men.  They should be referred to a heart specialist or hospitalized or given whatever care they should be entitled to.  It’s time for women to stop being under served and under treated.  In the mean time, educating women about their risk of the disease and how to take control of their health so that they can reduce that risk.  Whenever I go for my annual checkup, my doctor always orders an ECG for me.  Although I just read that ECG tests are not recommended by a government backed panel.  Read article.  Heart for Life has information on screening and heart tests on their website.  Check them out here.

I read that young women can have heart disease too.  Even though heart disease among women becomes more common after menopause, it affects younger women.  Every year in the U.S., heart disease kills about 16,000 young women and accounts for 40,000 hospitalizations in young women, according to the American Heart Association.  Young women may experience symptoms of a heart attack and fail to recognize them as such for the following reasons:

  • They thought they were too young to be having a heart attack.
  • They had atypical symptoms that lasted for more than a day.
  • They chalked up their symptoms to other conditions, not to a heart attack.

African American women are more at risk for heart disease than Caucasian women. And, if an African  American woman has a heart attack, she is 69 percent more likely to die of that  heart attack than a Caucasian woman.

Don’t be discouraged.  The Heart & Stroke Foundation assures us that heart disease is preventable and manageable.  They say that our defense is controlling the risk factors that could lead to coronary artery disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and being overweight.  Here are healthy heart steps we need to follow:

  • Be smoke-free.
  • Be physically active.
  • Know and control your blood pressure.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is lower in fat, especially saturated and trans fat.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage your diabetes.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Visit your doctor regularly and follow your doctor’s advice.

Let us take action today.  Let us keep our hearts healthy.

Women tend to think that breast cancer is their biggest health threat. And while it’s important, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of women, even young women. But that message just hasn’t been fully recognized – cardiologist Nicea Goldberg, MD, director of the Women’s Heart Program at NYU Medical Center and author of the new book Complete Woman’s Guide to Women’s Health.

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Sources:  http://www.womensheart.org/content/heartdisease/heart_disease_facts.asp; http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/women-and-heart-disease-key-facts-you-need-to-know; http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/heart-disease.cfm; http://www.oprah.com/health/Facts-About-Heart-Disease-for-Women; http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/30/us-ecg-heart-idUSBRE86T1EE20120730; http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hdw/; http://www.emaxhealth.com/1020/heart-disease-affects-women-differently-men; http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca/health-resources/heart-health; http://www.modernmom.com/article/women-and-heart-disease-getting-the-right-health-care;  http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20080502/younger-women-miss-heart-attack-signs; http://www.heartandstroke.on.ca/site/c.pvI3IeNWJwE/b.4007287/k.4ACF/Heart_Disease__What_is_heart_disease.htm

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Post Pregnancy Belly

It has been close to three years since I gave birth to my son but still my tummy is still high.  I look at other women who were pregnant around the same time as I was and their tummies are flat.  You never would guess that they had babies.  I have been trying to get my tummy down but not having much success.  I heard that breastfeeding helped but I breastfed too.  Walking and drinking lots of water helped some women.  I don’t walk as often as I used to or drink as much water as I should.  Of course, a healthy diet helps so I have been watching what I eat.

I asked a few women how they managed to get their stomachs down.  One said going for walks, pushing the stroller and another said sit-ups.  I pushed my son in his stroller once or twice because he preferred to walk.  I have started and stopped doing sit-ups.  I read that crunches don’t work.  They may do more harm than good. 

“Crunches put pressure on the tissue that connects the outermost abdominal muscles, which can further separate them,” says Julie Tupler, a nurse and coauthor of Lose Your Mummy Tummy. The key to toning up your tummy: Brace your stomach and focus on engaging the innermost ab muscle, the transverse abdominus, since this is the muscle that really supports the uterus and gut and keeps your belly sucked in. This also helps prevent back pain.

You can engage and tone your transverse ab muscle while you do almost any activity – or when you’re just sitting around. How? Sit up straight, shoulders down, and draw your belly button in toward your spine. “Imagine you’re wearing a corset and you’re pulling its strings tight,” says Lisa Druxman, a fitness trainer and author of Lean Mommy. Believe it or not, sitting this way (say, while you’re reading to your child) or standing this way (maybe while you’re waiting in line at the store or changing a diaper) will make your abs firmer and flatter. It’ll instantly elongate your torso and strengthen your abs and back. If you think you’ll forget to do this, tie a piece of string around your waist while your ab muscles are drawn in, and leave it there. Every time you expand your stomach, you’ll feel the string pull and remember to keep your abs taut (http://www.parenting.com/article/ways-to-lose-and-hide-baby-weight?page=0,0).

This exercise seems easy enough and can be done anywhere.  Even as I type this post I am holding in my tummy.   If this works, I will definitely recommend it.

If you are like me, tired of looking in the mirror and seeing your mummy tummy and you want to go back to wearing a smaller size in your pants and skirts, then act now.  Start sucking in your tummy!

Love Your Heart

February is heart disease awareness month.

I was surprised to learn that heart disease is the number one killer in women.   Once when I went to the doctor, he told me that I had an irregular heartbeat.  He prescribed regular aspirin.  I never worried about my heart.  And I read that women are mostly concerned about other diseases and illnesses such as breast cancer.  In the United States one woman dies every minute from a cardiovascular event. Yet coronary heart disease is still considered by many as a “man’s disease” (http://www.healthcentral.com/heart-disease/c/7291/18967/heart-women).

Who are at risk to get heart disease? 

Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels; high blood pressure; diabetes; overweight or obesity; metabolic syndrome; lack of physical exercise; age; family history; sleep apnea; stress; alcohol

What steps could we take to prevent heart disease?

A healthy diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, pasta, rice, oily fish like trout, salmon, herring, mackerel, or fresh tuna; the right amount of fats found in poultry, lean meat and fish;  a reduced amount of salt.

Exercise is good for our hearts.  Since I have not exercised in a long time, I need to start slowly, gradually building up my strength.  My idea of exercise is taking long walk or swimming.  Swimming is relaxing, fun and it gives the body a total workout (http://www.healthcentral.com/heart-disease/diet-162120-5.html).

Take the steps to prevent heart disease.  Love your heart!