Women and Heart Disease - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/18/03

Women and Heart Disease

February is Heart Month and Friday is Women's Heart Day. It is important to reach women and remind them that, after menopause, their number one killer is heart disease. Cardiologists are alarmed by the fact that since 1980, the death rate from cardiovascular disease among men has declined while that of women, has continued to climb.

Women consider heart disease to be a man's disease. In a survey done by the American Heart Association, 63% of women said that breast cancer was their greatest killer. Yet each year about 500,000 women die of heart and circulatory problems while 44,000 die of breast cancer.

Women have to learn that they are vulnerable. Heart disease is different in women. Only recently have doctors recognized this fact.  Less than a third of women reported that their doctor discussed heart disease with them.

Women tend to ignore the symptoms of heart disease. They are busy with families. They think that only old people get heart attacks. They see a heart attack as a quick way to die and become fatalistic about it.

For years, women who took hormone replacement therapy (HRT) were thought to be protected against heart disease. Current research shows that this is false.

Just as in our male counterparts, prevention and a heart healthy lifestyle is key. Especially as we approach menopause, we need to be eating a diet low in saturated fats and rich in fruits and vegetables. If you smoke, you need to quit. It is easy now with all the patches and pills.

If your cholesterol or blood pressure is elevated, you should begin taking medicines to control them. Exercise is an essential part of the prevention-at least 30 minutes a day.

Learn the symptoms of heart attack. They are different in women. They include: 

  • Feelings of pressure, squeezing or pain over the center of the chest. 
  • Pain which spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw, back or arms. 
  • Discomfort in the chest along with nausea, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath.

While these are the most common, some women will have 'silent' heart attacks. Others have stomach or abdominal pain, unexplained anxiety or nervousness, swelling of the ankles, or cold pale yet sweaty skin.

Prompt medical care is essential. At any of these signs you should contact your doctor or go to the emergency room. Crush an aspirin and take it with water.

Remember that treatments are most effective when administered early when damage to the heart is minimal and women need to learn what is heart healthy for them.

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