Women, You're Not Immune to Heart Disease

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Recently I received an email about the Go Red for Women Campaign from the American Heart Association. Reading through the information, I was shocked to discover that more women die from heart disease (heart attacks, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases) than the next FIVE leading causes of death combined, including breast cancer. This in an age where early intervention is the difference between life and death.

A little less than 5 years ago, at the age of 42, I was diagnosed with hypertension, high cholesterol levels, and high triglycerides. My doctor prescribed an anti-hypertensive and urged me to lose weight. Fortunately my hypertension responded to the medication, which told me at the time that really I didn't need to lose weight because my high blood pressure was being managed. Every three months I would reluctantly head back to her office for my follow-up exam only to hear the pleas for me get my weight down and work in some physical activity.

It took 12 months, and no longer able being to wear my favorite pants, for me to hear my own wake-up call. I am a firm believer that education is crucial to understanding how to transform one's life. I started reading everything I could about how to change the path that I was on. As I researched this topic, I uncovered some shocking information.

So why is heart disease so deadly for women?

For one thing, women’s symptoms can be quite different from a man's. We all have seen the medical drama where a man is depicted with classic symptoms of a heart attack--complaints of chest pains, pain in the jaw, pain radiating down the left arm, shortness of breath and breaking out in a cold sweat--only to be rushed to the ER to be saved.

The same CANNOT be said for women. Their symptoms are less characteristic in nature and many of the symptoms can be related to many other medical conditions.

They include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion/stomach issues
  • Anxiety or a feeling of impending doom.

Because these warning signs are not the classic heart attack symptoms many of us have come to know, many health care providers fail to diagnose a heart attack or cardiovascular disease in woman who presents to the ER with these signs. Hopefully, with all the new advances in women’s health issues this trend is changing.

So what can we, as women, do to prevent developing cardiovascular disease?

  • Don’t smoke! Smoking is a major cause of not only heart disease but lung disease as well.
  • Diet is definitely an area in which we all should monitor closely. Eating more fruits and veggies, less saturated fats, checking labels for ‘trans fats’ (AKA partially hydrogenated oils), eating fish and nuts, which contain the healthy monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fats, and reducing sodium intake are all means to preventing or slowing progression of heart disease.
  • Getting in adequate amounts of cardio and strength training activity is another means. Something as simple as 30 minute brisk walk 5-6 days a week and strength training 2 times a week, will get you well on the path to a healthier you. As with every exercise program, it is best to get clearance from your doctor prior to engaging any activity, especially if you currently are under medical supervision.
  • Managing stress is another area many of us need to manage better. This is where exercise helps me the most. When life gets just a little too overwhelming, going for a nice run or walk helps me cope just a tad better to these obstacles.
  • Managing your hypertension in conjunction with your health care provider is also important. Make sure you are taking your medication as prescribed and follow up with your doctor is crucial, as well as keeping communication between doc and patient opened.

    PLEASE do NOT hesitate to go to the ER if you experience any symptom that is new to you. It is ALWAYS better to err on the side of caution. If you would like to know your risk for heart disease, please visit the Women’s Heart Foundation website and take the quiz.

    Almost 5 years later, I still must take an anti-hypertensive to manage my high blood pressure; however, I was able to lower my total blood cholesterol levels to the excellent range, drop my triglycerides to the excellent range, lower my waist to hip ratio, and keep my blood glucose stable, all with a sound nutrition and exercise while learning how to deal with the stress in my life.

    Do you suffer from heart disease? What measures do you take to prevent or slow progression of this disease? Do you believe women are often misdiagnosed or seen as ‘being too stressed’ when they present to the ER with vague symptoms?