Women are natural caretakers whether it’s in the form of a mother, sister, daughter or partner. More often than women are so busy caring for everyone else, that their own health and wellbeing slips to the bottom of the list. Sounds familiar? If so, for the sake of your loved ones and for your heart, start making you and your health a priority. Take time to understand how likely you are to develop heart disease and what you can do to prevent it. Did you know? Each year more women die of heart disease than men yet, heart disease and related risk factors are often missed in women.
Symptoms of coronary heart disease and heart attack are different in women than their male counterparts. Women are also less likely to receive optimal treatment for a certain heart condition. Even though heart disease tends to strike later in life it can happen at any age. The usual suspects of heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, family history of early heart disease, older age. High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase the long term risk of hypertension and diabetes that increases the risk of the development of heart disease in mothers. Women with inflammatory disease like Rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus have an increased risk of heart disease.
Estrogen once thought to have a protective role in the development of heart disease, as it reduces blood pressure, blunts the effect of stress hormone at the time of stress and is a natural antioxidant, but it also promotes clot formation so hormone replacement therapy containing Estrogen once thought to protect against heart disease is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Some usual facts are that women are more likely to have a disease that affects smaller arteries, there are actually dysfunction of arteries rather than a blockage. Spontaneous dissection (tear) in coronary arteries, Broken heart syndrome – despite the name it can happen with good or bad emotional excitement and occur more commonly in females. Chemo or radiotherapy for breast cancer can damage your heart both acutely and in future.
Although many women have classic crushing chest pain which is the hallmark of a heart attack, at least one third will have typical symptoms like extreme tiredness, nausea, feeling dizzy, indigestion, palpitation. Treatment options are medicines, coronary angioplasty and stenting, or coronary artery bypass grafting. Historically treatments have been based on clinical studies that included mostly men. In fact, less than twenty-five per cent of participants have been women. The good news is that as research continues to evolve and include women of all race and ethnicities, researchers are beginning to find diagnostic and therapeutic approaches that are better matched to women with CAD.
While men and women have a similar rate of hospitalization, women tend to have longer hospital stays, receive less recommended treatment and experience greater long term disability. Women are less likely to return to work following a CVD related hospital admission and have a lower health-related quality of life following an event. These are important reasons for women to be educated about, what they can do to prevent heart disease and the type of treatment that should be recommended if they have heart disease.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a 12 weeks programme that includes supervised exercise, nutrition counselling, stress management, assistance to quit smoking and education about the disease process. Studies showed that people who attend cardiac rehabilitation have fewer returns to the hospital and a better quality of life.
Here are some tips for staying healthy and happy!
- Take stock of your heart disease risk at every age.
- Schedule routine health checks.
- Start or step up your exercise programme.
- Make healthy food choices to eat more plant-based and less processed food. Read labels and stay away from food that contains “saturated fats” or anything that contains “partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats “, these products are often high in unhealthy fats.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking or don’t start.
- Reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep
- Limit alcohol to one drink or less.
- Listen to your body if you have a feeling that something is wrong, get it checked out.
With this knowledge, women can advocate for their own best health care. My advice to women is to do one good thing for your heart every day. Protect your heart by making healthy choices that are right for you.