Many Women Underestimate Heart Risks

Friday, 15 Feb 2013 10:30 AM

By Nick Tate

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The “Big C” strikes fear into most women’s hearts, but it’s actually cardiovascular disease they should most fear, new research suggests.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women — causing one out of every three deaths — yet many still underestimate the seriousness of the disease, said Liliana Cohen, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist with The Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group.

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While cancer is likely to be the biggest concern of most women, heart disease kills far more women, Dr. Cohen noted.

“The latest American Heart Association statistics reveal that heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, killing one woman every minute. Yet, these same studies show that relatively few women believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat,” said Dr. Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“The reality is that 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. These misconceptions could be putting women’s lives at risk every day.”

She added that it’s important for women to recognize the symptoms of heart problems can be different for women than men and that chest pain isn’t the only sign of trouble.

“The symptom many women focus on is chest pain, but the reality is that women are also likely to experience other types of symptoms, including shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, and nausea or vomiting,” Dr. Cohen noted. “This misperception may lead many women to ignore or minimize their symptoms and delay getting life-saving treatment.”

Other symptoms of a heart attack for women and men include dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting; pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen; and extreme fatigue.

Dr. Cohen also recommends that women take steps to prevent or control conditions that may put them at risk. Among them:
  • Keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If either or both are high, work with your physician to develop a strategy for keeping them in check. If you have diabetes, properly controlling it is critical to lowering your risk.
  • Exercise. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and aim for more than 30 minutes of exercise at least five times per week. Walking, gardening, and other activities outside of an intense health-club workout can offer significant benefits.
  •  Eat a healthy diet. Choose foods low in saturated fats and trans-fats, and high in fiber. Whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, and legumes like peas or beans help round out a well-balanced diet, as will foods high in antioxidants.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being obese or overweight hikes the risk of heart disease significantly and contributes to other risk factors like diabetess.
  • If you smoke, stop now. Smoking greatly boosts the risk for heart attacks, as well as your risk of dying if you have a heart attack.

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