Women are typically afflicted by “broken hearts” in February on Valentine’s Day, so maybe it’s appropriate that it’s also American Heart Month. But according to a cardiologist from Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System, women are suffering from real broken hearts in an increasing number all year round.
Dr. Heather Horton, director of the Cardiac Cath Lab at The Heart Hospital at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., reports that nearly 500,000 women unnecessarily loose their life annually to heart disease, which claims more women’s lives than the next seven causes of death combined. One in 2.5 women will die of heart disease or stroke, compared with one in 30 from breast cancer. But there are things all women can do to mend their broken hearts.
“Start by getting fit,” says Horton, “Don’t have time to exercise? Don’t think exercise-think action.
Standing is better than sitting, walking is better than standing. Increase physical activity to at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week, even if it’s 10 minutes at a time.”
Another key in reducing heart disease is to stop smoking, which is the most important aspect to improving your health.
“Healthy food habits can help to reduce three risk factors for heart attack and stroke-high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess body weight,” Horton says.
She also suggests the following healthy dietary tips:
- Eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, cereal and grain products, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, beans, nuts, fish, poultry, and lean meats.
- Eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Eat with other people-you’ll eat less than if you eat alone.
- Know your snack “triggers” and plan ahead. Be ready with healthy snacks to fight the urge for high calorie or high saturated-fat foods.
According to Horton, there are questions about whether a woman’s health risk to heart disease and stroke is due to gender difference or gender bias. “It’s probably some of both and several factors may explain the apparent disparity in treatment of men and women,” she says.
“In the past, many of the major heart research studies were conducted on men. Clinical studies now under way may help clarify the gender differences that affect diagnosis and treatment of women with heart disease.”
Horton reports that clinicians and patients often attribute chest pains in women to non-cardiac causes, leading to a misinterpretation of their condition.
“Both women and men may have the ‘classic’ chest pain that grips the chest and spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms. But women tend to have atypical chest pain and may complain of abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, nausea, and unexplained fatigue,” she says.
“Women, too, avoid or delay seeking medical care, perhaps out of denial or not being aware of both typical and atypical heart attack symptoms. And since women tend to have heart attacks later in life than men do, they often have other diseases, such as arthritis, that can mask heart attack symptoms.”
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD