During February, most think about that special person in their lives. Everything in sight is red, pink and filled with hearts. This month is also designated as American Heart Month. With this in mind, I challenge you to think about heart health and your mom, sister, friend or perhaps yourself!
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases and strokes kill 1 in 3 women each year. An estimated 44 million U.S. women are affected by heart disease.
Being a wife, mom of six, living a sedentary lifestyle (sitting at a computer at work) and with family history of diabetes and high cholesterol, I decided on some life adjustments. I started with two small changes—move more and eat better. Five years later and 65 pounds off, I feel better than ever!
Working at Community Medical Centers, I’ve learned a lot about living a healthier lifestyle. But to be completely honest, the simple fact of working in a hospital environment forces you to walk a lot each day—which helps me add to my daily step goal. Yes, it’s a job requirement, but I‘ll take that as a game point. Score!
I challenge you! If you’re a man, share heart healthy information with the women in your life. If you are a woman, do it for those you love. Do it for yourself!
I sat down with Dr. Teresa Daniele, cardiologist with UCSF Fresno, to get more information on this important topic. She answers frequently asked questions about heart health and prevention.
How serious is heart disease among women?
Dr. Daniele: 1 in 3 women die from heart disease. It is the number one cause of death for both men and women. There are more cardiac deaths than all cancer deaths combined. Most women fear that they will die from cancer, but in reality, cancer is the 5th leading cause of death for women.
What puts at women at higher risk for heart disease?
Dr. Daniele: More than 90% of women in the U.S. have at least 2 risk factors for heart disease—which is really staggering.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
Dr. Daniele: Risk factors include a family history of premature death due to cardiac health, smoking, high blood pressure, being overweight, living a sedentary lifestyle and diabetes. Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can also contribute to an increased risk of heart attacks among women.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack?
Dr. Daniele: Many women do not recognize the symptoms of a heart attack because they are so different from those experienced by men. For men, it’s usually chest pain—this is not so for women. Women experience shortness of breath and fatigue. What woman doesn’t feel this way at the end of the day? Many women feel like this most of the time.
How can we prevent a heart attack?
Dr. Daniele: It is very important to know and understand your numbers on cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose. Knowing these numbers and staying within healthy levels can save your life. All women should also be active—all it takes is a brisk 30 minute walk, 5 times a week. Keep in mind, it is important to reach a level of physical activity that makes you break a sweat.
What should Latina women know about heart disease?
Dr. Daniele: Latinas tend to have higher rates of heart disease due to their diets. Much of the Latino diet tends to be high in carbohydrates and red meat. Latinas in general are shorter in stature, so adding a few pounds will increase their weight and put them at further risk for a heart attack.
What should we know about diet?
Dr. Daniele: What we eat and how much we eat is important. Is wise to always have in mind portion control. We tend to eat a lot more food than what is necessary to sustain our bodies. For example, for both men and women, 1 portion of meat is equal to the palm of the hand. And most of the time, we eat a lot more than that in one sitting.
How serious is the diabetes factor?
Dr. Daniele: Diabetes is a real concern when it comes to heart disease. So much so that once a person is diagnosed with pre-diabetes, a physician’s treatment for that person will automatically assume that that person has already had a heart attack and therefore treat him or her with medications for a cardiac patient. Diabetes is so rampant in our communities because of our high rates of obesity.
Women are usually the main caretaker in the home but often forgo their own health. What advise can you share for women on this front?
Dr. Daniele: You have to make yourself a priority. If you are not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to care for others. You yourself must be a role model for your family. It is our responsibility to model healthy eating and physical activity. Both, healthy eating and exercise should be as routine as taking a shower. It is an everyday process that must be embedded in our everyday living.