Here’s what women need to know for cardiovascular well-being.
When you stop to analyze the statistics related to women and heart health, the bad news can be a little staggering:
- 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year is related to cardiovascular disease;
- approximately 1 woman every 80 seconds dies from heart-related causes; and
- 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.
The good news, says Elizabeth Clement, a physician assistant with Crescent City Cardiovascular Associates, is that education — of physicians and patients alike — can go a long way toward making a dent in these numbers.
“I feel like women are becoming a lot more aware because of campaigns from the American Heart Association and from our efforts to explain things to our patients in terms they can understand,” Clement says. “And I feel like every medical professional I know is definitely aware that women can have atypical heart attack symptoms. So diagnosis is increasing.”
The first step in education is putting to rest the myth that heart disease is a man’s condition. That attitude is so 1995 (the year doctors tied aspirin to heart attack reduction after studying 22,000 men and no women). The second step is for women to understand that certain discomforts may be indeed heart attack symptoms.
While women can definitely have chest pains and shortness of breath, women are more likely than men to experience:
- nausea and vomiting;
- back, neck, shoulder or jaw pain;
- dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting;
- pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen; and
- extreme fatigue.
And Clement says that women have certain risk factors that affect them more than men:
- Female smokers are considered to be more at risk than male smokers.
- Mental and emotional stress can take a higher toll on a female heart.
- When women hit menopause, lower levels of heart-protecting estrogen can raise risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the smaller vessels of the heart.
Clement says women can protect themselves by knowing the warning signs but also working harder to avoid cardiovascular disease in the first place. “It’s the same things we do for everything that is good for our health: eat properly; have plenty of fruits and vegetables; exercise a minimum of 30 minutes per day most days of the week; quit smoking; and try to lose weight. It’s also important to know your family history and your own risk factors,” she says.
In particular, knowing the following recommended numbers can help save your life:
- TOTAL CHOLESTEROL: less than 200 mg/dl
- HDL: greater than 60 mg/dl
- BLOOD PRESSURE: 120/80 mm/hg or lower
- FASTING BLOOD SUGAR: 100 mg/dl or lower
- BODY MASS INDEX (BMI): 25 kg/m2 or lower
Clement recommends you talk to your doctor about your numbers and your overall risk.
She admits that knowing is not the same as doing, and, as a hospital-setting PA, she works hard to educate her patients to help them with medical and lifestyle management to prevent the complications that can arise and to prevent the next hospitalization.
“We want to teach them to prevent future events,” Clement says. She takes the time to get to know each patient to understand what motivates them most. Maybe they want to see their grandchildren grow up, for example, and through that inspiration, she can help them focus on taking ownership of their health issues for a successful outcome.
“Some people are okay with being told they need to lose some weight; some just want to be given healthy options,” Clement says. “I gauge the patient independently. It comes from being a patient myself. We’re all the patient at the end of the day. I take my own experience with that.”
Heart-Healthy Mardi Gras Moderation
In this month of Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras, what is a local woman to do to steer clear of temptation? Like with everything, Clement says, take it in moderation.
“It’s hard to avoid everything that might be bad, especially during king cake season,” she says. “A piece now and again is okay. A box of Valentine’s chocolate in one sitting? That’s something we definitely need to avoid.”
You can also moderate your alcohol intake by switching to red wine or seltzer and citrus. Have a glass of water in between each beverage, and save your heart (and a hangover)! touro.com/cardio