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Women Underestimate Seriousness of Heart Disease, Cardiologist Says

Proactive steps suggested to reduce risk (Feb. 1)

Although heart disease remains the No. 1 killer nationally for women — responsible for one out of every three deaths — many women still underestimate the seriousness of the disease and their risks, according to a researcher at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group in New Brunswick, N.J.

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

“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. This misperception may lead many women to ignore or minimize their symptoms and delay getting life-saving treatment,” Dr. Cohen explained.

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

Cohen recommends that women take proactive steps to prevent or control conditions that may put them at risk. She advises that women should:

  • Keep track of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If either or both are high, women should work with their physicians to develop a strategy for controlling these risk factors. If a woman has diabetes, proper blood pressure and cholesterol control is critical to lowering her risk for heart disease.
  • Exercise. It is important for women to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, Cohen said. Ideally, they should aim for more than 30 minutes of exercise at least five times per week. That doesn’t necessarily mean high-impact classes at the local gym; walking, gardening, and other activities that keep women moving and active can also help.
  • Commit to a healthy diet. Women should look for foods that are low in saturated fat and trans-fat, as well as those that are high in fiber, Cohen advised. Whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (such as peas or beans) will help round out a well-balanced diet, as will foods that are high in antioxidants.
  • Strive for a healthy weight. Being obese or overweight can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease significantly because it contributes to other risk factors, such as diabetes. Physicians can help women determine the ideal weight for their body type and age, and can provide suggestions on how to reach that goal.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking has been found to significantly increase the risk for heart attacks as well as a woman’s risk of dying if she has a heart attack.

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; February 1, 2013.

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