Every 60 seconds, a woman in the U.S. dies of heart disease or stroke; that is one in three of us. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, more deadly than all forms of cancers combined. Yet most of us are terrified of breast cancer, which is 10 times less likely to be our cause of death.
Crushing chest pain, a cold sweat, pain in the jaw or radiating down the left arm are classic signs of a heart attack, right? Maybe in men, but in women, symptoms are often more subtle, less recognizable not only us, but by doctors as well. Some of the more common symptoms of a heart attack in women are shortness of breath, upper back or chest discomfort, nausea, fatigue and uneasiness or anxiety. What should you do if you think you may be having a heart attack? Call 911 and chew an aspirin, in that order. Only 65 percent of women say they would call 911 if they thought they were having a heart attack because they don't want to bother anyone. Guess what: if you don't call you won't have to worry about that again, because you may not be around to worry about anything at all.
Almost 90 percent of women have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke. Risk factors include a family history, obesity, diabetes, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. While you can't change your genes, you can modify many other risk factors. The most important step you can take is to not smoke - just one year after quitting, risk of heart disease is cut by 50 percent. Lose weight, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Studies show that making healthy choices result in 330 fewer women dying from heart disease every day.
Know your numbers: blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and BMI (body mass index). Every woman over the age of 20 should have her blood pressure checked annually. BMI can be calculated by weight and height. Cholesterol screening should start at 20 and be done periodically; how often depends on individual factors such as family history, other risk factors and, of course, the results of the cholesterol testing. Ideally, BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9; blood pressure is 120/80 or less; total cholesterol less than 200; HDL (good cholesterol) greater than 60; LDL (bad cholesterol) less than 130; and fasting blood sugar less than 100.
So make an appointment with your doctor. Find out your numbers. Make a commitment to yourself and to those you love to live a healthier lifestyle so you are one less mother, daughter, sister, wife or best friend struck down by heart disease.
- Dr. Kelly Shanahan, owner of Emerald Bay Center for Women's Health, has served the women of Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley for almost 19 years. Like the practice on Facebook for special heart health tips and offers, or call 530-542-4961 or 775-782-7300.