Barbra Streisand’s Women’s Health Center

Just recently when I watched Barbra Streisand on the Dr. Oz Show, I found out that she has a Women’s Heart Center and that she is an advocate for women’s heart health.

For women struggling with heart disease, the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute is leading the way in next-generation care. Our groundbreaking research and education have one goal: to wipe out the No. 1 killer of women.

Check out these two videos about the #1 killer of women.

Barbra’s interview with Dr. Oz got me seriously thinking about my heart and what I could do reduce my risk of heart disease. To find out more about how you can protect your heart and what is being done in the fight against this lady killer, visit: http://giving.cedars-sinai.edu/barbra-streisand-womens-heart-center  

We can no longer afford the misconception that heart disease is mostly a man’s problem. The need for more research into women’s heart disease is urgent.”Barbra Streisand

Take your heart’s health seriously.  The more you know the better your chances are.  It’s time to fight back.

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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

Zora Neale Hurston

Dubbed “America’s favorite black conservative” and “Genius of the South”, Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance.  She is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Zora was born on January 7, 1891.  She was was the fifth of eight children.  Her father, John Hurston was a Baptist preacher, tenant farmer, and carpenter and her mother, Lucy a school teacher.  She was born and grew up in Notasulga, Alabama.  When Zora was three, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-Black towns to be incorporated in the United States.  Life was great in Eatonville.  It was the place Zora felt more at home and sometimes called her birthplace.  It was the town where her father became the mayor and the place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society.

In 1901, some northern schoolteachers visited Eatonville and gave Zora a number of books which opened her mind to literature which explains why she sometimes describes her “birth” as taking place in that year. She spent the remainder of her childhood in Eatonville, and describes the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”.

Three years later in 1904, Zora’s mother died and her father remarried.  The immediacy of this second marriage to Matte Moge caused a bit of a scandal and it was even rumored that John had relations with Matte before his first wife died. Zora and her step-mother violently quarrelled.  She was sent away to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida.  Eventually her father and step-mother stopped paying her tuition and she was expelled.  To survive, Zora worked as a maid to the lead singer in a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company.

In 1917, Zora attended Morgan Academy, the high school division of the African American Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was at this time that the 26 year old began to claim 1901 as her date of birth possibly to qualify for a free high-school education and to reflect her literary birth.  She graduated from Morgan Academy in 1918.  That same year Zora began undergraduate studies at Howard University, where she became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and co-founded The Hilltop, the university’s student newspaper.  While she was there,  she took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an Associate’s Degree in 1920.  In 1921, she wrote a short story, John Redding Goes to Sea, which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.  Zora left Howard University in 1924 and a year later she was offered a scholarship to Barnard College, Columbia University where she was the college’s sole black student.  In 1927, at the age of 36 Zora received her B.A. in anthropology.  She worked with the likes of  Franz Boas of Columbia University, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.  After graduating from Barnard, Zora spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University.

On a more personal note, Zora was married twice.  In 1927, she married Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and former classmate at Howard who would later become a physician, but the marriage ended in 1931.  In 1939, while Hurston was working for the WPA, she married Albert Price, a 23-year-old fellow WPA employee, and 25 years her junior, but this marriage ended after only seven months. 

Zora’s love for anthropology took her on some extensive trips to the Caribbean and the American South.  In 1936 and 1937, she traveled to Jamaica and to Haiti with support from the Guggenheim Foundation from which her anthropological work Tell My Horse published in 1938 emerged.  She also lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés from October 1947 to February 1948.  She travelled to Central America fuelled by the idea of locating either Mayan ruins or ruins of an undiscovered civilization. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, a a story of two people at once deeply in love and deeply at odds, set among the community of “Florida Crackers” at the turn of the twentieth century.  Zora was noted for writing primarily about blacks in Florida yet in this book, her characters were a “cracker” couple.  Perhaps it was being in a Honduras, surrounded by a culture different from her own that inspired her to write this book.  She was interested the Miskito Zambu,  a mixed-race (African-Indigenous American) population group occupying the Caribbean coast of Central America, focused on the region of the Honduras-Nicaragua border.and Garifuna, descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people.

Little did Zora know that when she returned to her native country in 1948, she would face a terrible scandal.  She was falsely accused of molesting a ten-year-old boy (another writeup says there were three boys) and even though the case was dismissed after she presented evidence that she was in Honduras when the alleged crime took place in the U.S., her personal life was seriously disrupted by the scandal.

Zora was a Republican.  She supported the presidential campaign of Senator Robert A. Taft.  They both were opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and Roosevelt’s and Truman’s interventionist foreign policy.  In the original draft of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, she compared the United States government to a “fence” in stolen goods and to a Mafia-like protection racket and thought it ironic that the same “people who claim that it is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy … wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals…. We, too, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.” She had a lot to say about those who sought “freedoms” for those abroad, but denied it to people in their home countries: Roosevelt “can call names across an ocean” for his Four Freedoms, but he did not have “the courage to speak even softly at home.” When Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, she called him “the Butcher of Asia.”

She opposed the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954 because she was of the opinion that if separate schools were truly equal, educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education.  She worried that integration would bring about the demise of black schools and black teachers which were the means through which cultural tradition would be passed on to future generations of African Americans.  She wrote of her opposition in  in a letter, stating, “Court Order Can’t Make the Races Mix”.  She opposed preferential treatment for blacks.  “If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”  She opposed what is now referred to as Affirmative Action.

Zora has had her share of criticism from her literary contemporaries, most notably, Richard Wright. In his review of Their Eyes Were Watching God, he wrote: … The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is “quaint,” the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the “superior” race.  For decades,  Zora’s work slid into obscurity due to a number of cultural and political reasons but thanks to Alice Walker’s article,  “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine interest in Zora’s work has been revived.

Zora spent her later years as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers.  When she moved to Fort Pierce, she took jobs where she could find them, such substitute teacher and maid.  During a period of financial and medical difficulties, Zora was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home where she suffered a stroke.  She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida.  Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973, when novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.  What a sad end for this remarkable woman whose true happiness came from her work.

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salute Zora Neale Hurston who had the courage to disagree with the philosophies supported by many of her colleagues in the Harlem Renaissance.  Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, celebrates her life in an annual festival.  Her home in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark.  In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Zora Neale Hurston on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.  She poured herself into her work and left a legacy of literary work that would hail her as one of the most important black writers of the 20th century.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners.

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me.

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

“I don’t know any more about the future than you do.  I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find. . . I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.”

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston; http://zoranealehurston.com/; http://www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=zora-neale-hurston-genius-of-the-south&id=211

Women and HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2012 was World AIDS Day.  Different organizations such as Project Have Hope, SOS Children’s Villages, One Billion Rising and UNICEF Canada were raising awareness of a disease which has no cure.  Children are orphaned because of AIDS.  According to SOS Children’s Village, 33.3 million people live with HIV/AIDS and 3.4 million of those affected are children.  Lost, ostracized by family members and friends, these children are often forced to live on the streets in some of the most appalling conditions imaginable.

I remember watching the movie GIA with Angelina Jolie as Supermodel Gia Carangi who died of AIDS in 1986 at the age of 26.  She was addicted to heroin and other drugs.  She contracted HIV through a shared needle.  What a tragic movie it was to see someone so young and with a successful career spiral downhill because drugs had taken over her life.  She was thought to be the first famous woman to die of AIDS.

General Hospital’s Robin Scorpio came to mainstream attention during a 1990s story arc where her boyfriend Stone Cates dies from AIDS and Robin is diagnosed as HIV-positive.  Robin has since married Dr. Patrick Drake and the couple has a daughter, Emma, who, after a brief scare, is shown not to be infected by Robin’s HIV.

Even though there is way more information about the disease now than back in the ’80s, there are still some questions people have about HIV/AIDS.  Some of the frequently asked questions  are:

1. Are HIV and AIDS the same thing?

No. When someone is described as living with HIV, they have the HIV virus in their body. A person is considered to have developed AIDS when the immune system is so weak it can no longer fight off a range of diseases with which it would normally cope.

2. How is HIV passed on?

HIV is passed on through infected bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluids, blood, breast milk and rectal secretions. The most common ways HIV is transmitted are through sex without a condom and through sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment. You cannot get HIV through casual or day-to-day contact, or kissing, spitting or sharing a cup or plate.

3. Can you get HIV from oral sex?

The risk of HIV transmission from performing oral sex is low but it can still happen. It is best to avoid giving oral sex if you have cuts or sores in your mouth or bleeding gums, as this increases the risk of HIV entering your body.

4. How can I protect myself and others from HIV infection?

Always use a condom when having vaginal or anal sex. You may also want to use a condom or dental dam during oral sex although the risk of transmission of HIV is much lower. You can get free condoms from a sexual health clinic, which you can locate via the FPA website. Never share needles, syringes or any other injecting equipment.

5. What do I do if I don’t like using condoms?

Condoms have come a long way in recent years and you can now get condoms in different sizes, flavours, and with added features to increase pleasure and heighten sensation. Condoms are still the best way to protect yourself and others from HIV infection, and other STIs, so if you think you don’t like using condoms, it’s worth trying out some different varieties.

If you find using condoms or negotiating condom use difficult, it is worth speaking to your local sexual health clinic or GP.

Other questions are:

Will HIV definitely be passed on during sex between an HIV positive and an HIV negative person?

During sex, it is not an automatic consequence that HIV will transmitted. Compared with some other infectious diseases, risk of HIV infection from a single act of sex is usually low. But of course repeated acts of sex increase probability of transmission which is why it is important to have safer sex. Condoms are highly effective at preventing HIV from being passed on so condoms should always be used during sex to avoid HIV and other STIs.

There are other factors which can increase and reduce the risk of having sex with someone with HIV, but a condom is the safest and easiest way to prevent transmission and stay safe.

Is anal sex more risky than vaginal sex when it comes to HIV transmission?

HIV can be transmitted through both anal and vaginal sex, but in some circumstances there is greater risk involved in anal sex. This is because anal sex carries a greater risk of trauma (such as tearing of the skin and bleeding) which makes it easier for the HIV infection to get through.

What are the symptoms of early HIV infection?

The most common symptoms of early HIV infection, usually occurring around ten days after infection, are fever, rash and severe sore throat all occurring together. This combination of symptoms is unusual in healthy people and indicates the need for an HIV test.  70-90% of people experience symptoms of early HIV infection but some do not experience any. After two-three weeks these symptoms disappear, and someone with HIV may then live for many years without any further symptoms or indicators that they are HIV positive.

What should I do if I experience symptoms of early HIV infection?

If you experience the symptoms of early HIV infection — fever, rash and severe sore throat occurring at the same time — then you should get an HIV test as soon as possible. It could be just a bad case of flu, but there is also a risk it could it be the early signs of HIV infection so it always best to know for sure by getting tested.

Here are some facts that every woman should be aware of:

Women have a higher risk of getting HIV from vaginal sex

Women are more likely to get HIV during vaginal sex than men are for several reasons.

  • The vagina has a larger area (compared to the penis), that can be exposed to HIV-infected semen.
  • Semen can stay in the vagina for days after sex, while men are only exposed to HIV-infected fluids during sex. Semen left in the vagina means a longer exposure to the virus for women.
  • Having untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) makes it more likely for a person to get HIV. This is especially true for women. Small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into a woman’s body.

Women can pass HIV to their partners

Many HIV-positive women with HIV-negative partners worry about passing HIV. Research shows in the United States, men pass HIV more easily than women do. But women can still pass HIV to uninfected partners — both male and female — through all kinds of sex. This is because HIV is in blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, and in cells in the vaginal and anal walls.

If you are HIV-positive, you can pass the virus at any time, even if you are getting treatment. But you may be more likely to pass the virus if:

  • You have a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
  • You have recently been treated for a vaginal yeast infection or STIs
  • You were recently infected with HIV
  • Your partner has an infection or inflammation

The surest way to avoid passing any STI, including HIV, is to not have sex. If you do have sex, it’s important to alwaysuse a male condom correctly and every time you have sex.

Click here to find out when you should get tested for HIV and the types of tests available.

According to the latest (2008) WHO and UNAIDS global estimates, women comprise 50% of people living with HIV.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60% of people living with HIV. In other regions, men having sex with men (MSM), injecting drug users (IDU), sex workers and their clients are among those most-at-risk for HIV, but the proportion of women living with HIV has been increasing in the last 10 years.

This includes married or regular partners of clients of commercial sex, IDU and MSM, as well as female sex workers and injecting drug users.

Gender inequalities are a key driver of the epidemic in several ways:

Gender norms related to masculinity can encourage men to have more sexual partners and older men to have sexual relations with much younger women.

Violence against women (physical, sexual and emotional), which is experienced by 10 to 60% of women (ages 15-49 years) worldwide, increases their vulnerability to HIV.   Forced sex can contribute to HIV transmission due to tears and lacerations resulting from the use of force.

Gender-related barriers in access to services prevent women and men from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and care.  Women may face barriers due to their lack of access to and control over resources, child-care responsibilities, restricted mobility and limited decision-making power.

Women assume the major share of care-giving in the family, including for those living with and affected by HIV. This is often unpaid and is based on the assumption that women “naturally” fill this role.

Lack of education and economic security affects millions of women and girls, whose literacy levels are generally lower than men and boys’.

Many national HIV/AIDS programmes fail to address underlying gender inequalities. In 2008, only 52% of countries who reported to the UN General Assembly included specific, budgeted support for women-focused HIV/AIDS programmes.

Virgin cleansing is the mistaken belief or myth that if a man infected with HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases has sex with a virgin girl, he will be cured of his disease.  Anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala has recognized the myth as a potential factor in infant rape in South Africa.  Anthropologists Nora E. Groce and Reshma Trasi identified a variation of the practice of the virgin cleansing myth whereby individuals who are “blind, deaf, physically impaired, intellectually disabled, or who have mental-health disabilities” are raped under the erroneous presumption that individuals with disabilities are sexually inactive and therefore virgins.  It is most prevalent in Zimbabwe where the myth is perpetuated by traditional healers advising HIV-positive men to cure their disease by having sex with virgin girls.  Because of the virgin cleansing myth, as many as ten girls are raped every day. As many as 3,600 girls in Zimbabwe each year may be contracting HIV and AIDS after being raped.  UNICEF has attributed the rape of hundreds of girls to the virgin cleansing myth.   Cases have been reported in which a one-day-old infant was raped.  This is a practice that needs to be banned–abolished.  And gender inequality needs to be addressed so that women living with HIV/AIDS will get the treatment they need and not have to live with the stigma and shame.  Education and prevention are key to the fight against this epidemic and the organization amfAR founded in 1985, is doing this through innovative research.  Read here for the sobering statistics of women and HIV/AIDS in the United States and around the world.

This a disease that doesn’t discriminate.  I have read stories of women who contracted HIV from their husbands.  I read stories of women who contracted HIV from birth or from childhood.  HIV/AIDS affect single women, engaged women, married women, women of all races, ages, cultures, backgrounds, etc.  Many of those who found out that their partners, boyfriends, fiances and husbands were positive were devastated and afraid to get tested again for fear of the results.  Many of them contemplate suicide because they can’t face life with this disease.  Mothers worry about leaving their children and pregnant women worry about passing it on to their unborn children.  We all know that abstinence is the safest way to go but what do you say to a woman who at the age of 40 is still a virgin because she wants to preserve herself for her husband, finally meets the man of her dreams, they marry and then later down the road she finds out that he is HIV positive?  Her life is turned upside down.

I read that even though more men than women have HIV, infections among women is on the rise.  the greatest rates of infection occur among women of color (especially African American women). Younger women are more likely than older women to get HIV.   AIDS is second only to cancer and heart disease for women.

What can women do?

Get educated!  Educate yourself about the different ways that you can acquire HIV and then all the ways to protect yourself. Learn your status so that you can protect yourself and your partners.  Teach those around you about how HIV can be transmitted and how you can protect yourself from infection.  Work in your community to improve awareness.  You and your partner should get tested for HIV and other STDs so that you are aware of each other’s status before you have sex.  If you are a pregnant woman, it is especially important that you get tested early to help ensure, that if you are HIV positive, you do not transmit the virus to your unborn child.  Talk about HIV and other STDs with each partner before you have sex.  Ask your partners if they have recently been tested for HIV; encourage those who have not been tested to do so. Use a latex condom and lubricant every time you have sex.  Get tested for HIV once a year.

The good news is that many women with HIV are living longer and stronger lives. With proper care and treatment, many women can continue to take care of themselves and others.

Let’s continue to do everything we can to make HIV/AIDS history.

73285816-hiv-aids

Sources:  http://www.hivaware.org.uk/be-aware/faqs.php; http://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-aids; http://www.who.int/gender/hiv_aids/en/; http://www.amfar.org/about_hiv_and_aids/facts_and_stats/statistics__women_and_hiv_aids/; http://hiv411.org/page.php?pID=30; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gia_Carangi; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_cleansing_myth

Smoking and Women

A long time ago I took one drag on a cigarette and vowed never to touch another one again.  It made me cough and I felt terrible.  My sister used to smoke but then she stopped.  I have a cousin who used to smoke and her lips looked black.  I used to work with a woman who smoked while she was pregnant.  I have to admit that although I don’t like seeing anyone smoke because it’s not good for your health, I dislike seeing women smoke even more. 

In the movies they make it look glamourous.  Bette Davis looked sophisticated with a cigarette in her hand in Now Voyager.  It seemed so romantic when Paul Henreid lit both cigarettes and give her one. 

Smoking is anything but romantic or glamourous.  It is dangerous for your health.  Sadly, despite the many warnings that cigarettes can cause cancer and increase our risk of heart disease, approximately 23 million women in the US (23 percent of the female population) still smoke cigarettes. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in this country, yet more than 140,000 women die each year from smoking related causes. The highest rate of smoking (27 percent) occurs among women between twenty-five and forty-four (http://womenshealth.about.com/cs/azhealthtopics/a/smokingeffects.htm).

The most common side effects of smoking are:

Pulmonary and Respiratory Disorders:  Smoking increases your risk of developing a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The lung damage that occurs from pulmonary disease is not often reversible. However, if you do quit smoking your lung function will not decline further, and you may notice an improvement in coughing and breathing.

Cardiovascular disease:  Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease in the United States. Women who smoke more than double their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Immediately stopping smoking can result in instant improvement in your cardiovascular function and a reduced risk of heat disease. After smoking cessation has continued for at least a year, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease drops by 50 percent. Your risk continues to decline the more years you remain smoke free. Some studies suggest the heart attack risk for smoker’s drops to that of nonsmokers after two years of cessation.

Cancer:  Cigarette smoking contributes to developing several different kinds of cancer, including cervical cancer, lung cancer, cancer of the esophagus, mouth, bladder and pancreas. Smoking cessation can improve your survival rate and reduce your risk of developing severe cancers resulting from smoking.

Osteoporosis:  Smoking contributes to bone loss, thus increases a woman’s risk for developing osteoporosis. 10 years after smoking cessation a woman’s excess risk for osteoporosis declines significantly.

Breast Cancer:  Women who smoke are more at risk for breast cancer. In fact, the risk of developing fatal forms of breast cancer is 75 percent higher for women who smoke than those that do not. The number of cigarettes a woman smokes per day can affect their breast cancer survival rate.

Vulvar Cancer: Women who smoke are also 48 percent more likely to develop a rare form of vulvar cancer.

Smoking may also contribute to many other diseases and problems. It is especially dangerous to pregnant women. Babies exposed to smoking mothers are often born with birth defects and low birth weights. Mothers who smoke are also more at risk for miscarriage, premature rupture of the membranes and placenta previa. Babies born to mothers that smoke often experience withdrawal symptoms during the first week of life. Over time smoking also contribute to skin wrinkling and may even reduce your sexual ability. Quitting smoking improves all of these conditions immediately (http://www.womenshealthcaretopics.com/smoking_and_women.htm).

Women are more at risk for certain problems related to smoking than men are. Women who use oral contraceptives or other hormonal forms of birth control are especially at risk for developing serious side effects. Women using hormones who smoke increase their risk of developing life threatening blood clots and strokes.

Women who smoke typically have reduced fertility. Studies suggest that women who smoke are 3.4 times more likely to experience problems conceiving than those who do not. This may be because of a decreased ovulatory response. In some women the egg had trouble implanting when the mother smokes.

Smoking also affects women’s normal cyclical changes, including those that occur during menopause and menstruation. Women who start smoking during their teen years are more at risk for developing early menopause than women who do not smoke. Smokers may also experience more menstrual problems including abnormal bleeding or amenorrhea than women who don’t smoke. This may be because smoking often lowers levels of estrogens in the body (http://www.womenshealthcaretopics.com/smoking_and_women.htm).

Now that we know the risks of smoking, let’s look at some tips that will help women to quit.  I came across an article on How to Quit Cold Turkey written by a woman who used to smoke.  Note these tips are only for women who wish to quit smoking cold turkey.   There are three things you will need:   

Other steps to quit smoking are:

Step 1

Think about the positive health changes that will take place after you stop smoking.

Step 2

Make improvements in your appearance part of your plan. Aim for a sweeter smelling and better looking you.

Step 3

Get rid of all your cigarettes and put a healthy snack in your mouth instead of a cigarette when you get the urge to smoke. Also replace smoking with an activity you enjoy engaging in or can benefit from to help you quit.

Step 4

Talk to your doctor about taking medicine to help you stop smoking. Ask him if you are healthy enough to use the patch, nasal spray, inhaler, gum or lozenges, and find out which of these products he thinks is best for you.  Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/178278-how-women-can-quit-smoking/#ixzz1F868POZ5

I have a friend who used to smoke.  She quit because she read in her Bible, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  She looks much better since she quit. 

If you are a woman who smokes,  quitting may be the hardest thing for you to do but it will be the best thing in the long run.  You will feel better–more energetic and able to climb a flight of stairs without feeling winded.  And you will have a clear mind.  Plan to quit today.  You can do it!

Too Much Sitting

Some time ago there was a story on CTV about people sitting too long at their desks.  In fact, some co-workers and I were interviewed.  I am guilty of sitting at my desk and hardly getting up.  There were times when I would sit there not even taking a bathroom break.  And I would have late lunches–a couple times as late as 4pm.  One of my co-workers would scold me for sitting so long at my desk and would try unsuccessfully to encourage me to join her and others for lunch. 

When the reporter came to our department, I agreed to be interviewed because I knew I was guilty of too much sitting.   I told her that I would get so caught up in my work that I would remain glued to my chair.  That day I promised myself that I would change my behavior and start taking breaks. 

I must admit that I didn’t think that too much sitting was bad for people’s health.  There was a recent study in the European Heart Journal which examined the links of the total amount of time spent sitting down and breaks in sedentary time, with various indicators of risk for heart disease, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and inflammatory processes that can play a role in atherosclerosis (blocked arteries).

It found that prolonged periods of sedentary time, even in people who also spent some time in moderate-to-vigorous exercise, were associated with worse indicators of cardio-metabolic function and inflammation, such as larger waist circumferences, lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, higher levels of C-reactive protein (an important marker of inflammation) and triglycerides (blood fats).

However, the study also found that, even in people who spent a long time sitting down, the more breaks they took during this time, the smaller their waists and the lower the levels of C-reactive protein (http://www.news-medical.net/news/20110112/Plenty-of-breaks-from-sitting-at-the-desk-are-good-for-hearts-and-waistlines-Study.aspx)

What can we do to help ourselves?  Simple.  Take plenty of breaks.  This will be good for our hearts and waistlines.  I was advised to stand, stretch and walk around.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Get on your feet.  Take action now to reduce your risk of getting the “sitting disease”.

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!