Women Are at Risk for Heart Disease, too!

Valerie Robilio
Public Relations Coordinator
Phone: 901-227-3525
Cell: 901-828-2243
Ayoka Pond
Public Relations Manager
Phone: 901-227-3503
Cell: 901-581-5637

That means the average woman reading this will more likely develop and die from heart disease than breast cancer or any of the next 15 leading causes of death in women combined. One in two women will eventually die of heart disease or stroke, compared with one in 27 who will eventually die of breast cancer.

The numbers are startling. Baptist Memorial Health Care has conducted research that shows in the Memphis metro area, 87 percent of Mid-South women between the ages of 40 and 70 are at risk for having a heart attack. But only 29 percent know it. This is alarming.

So, what are the major risk factors for heart disease? They include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes and being overweight or physically inactive. Other risks include stress and high alcohol intake. Children of parents who’ve had heart disease are more likely to develop the disease, as well as women as they get older – after menopause. As women age, they produce less estrogen, which helps them maintain lower levels of “bad” cholesterol, higher levels of “good” cholesterol and reduces blood pressure. In general, African Americans are at greater risk for heart disease.

That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news – you can lower your risk for developing heart disease. If you smoke – stop smoking. It’s one of the leading risk factors, period. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and cut back on foods high in fat and cholesterol, such as fried foods, processed fast foods (hamburgers) and my personal favorite, doughnuts. Make this a fun opportunity to improve your diet – take a healthy eating cooking class or start a cooking club with friends or a church group. Along with improving your diet, start an exercise program and lose weight, this is especially important if you’re overweight because this is a major risk factor for heart disease. Check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly. If the numbers are high, work with your physician or health care provider on improving in these areas.

The single biggest thing you can do to increase your chances of surviving a heart attack is learn the symptoms of heart disease and know what to do if you develop them. Since the symptoms can differ for women and men, it’s especially important that you know when something’s wrong. So here are the general symptoms for heart disease - sweating, chest pain, shortness of breath and pain in the left arm. These are the classic symptoms that most men exhibit.

But you need to pay special attention to the less typical symptoms, which are more common in women. Indigestion. Difficulty breathing or tightness of the chest, which can last more than a few minutes or go away and come back. Dizziness. Vomiting. Unexplained fatigue. Pain around the shoulder blade area. If you’re ever in doubt, call your physician or go to the emergency room. Be sure to explain to the physician what you’ve been feeling and why you think you’re at risk.

For more information about heart disease, call your health care provider or the Baptist HeartLine at 1-866-HRT-2-HRT. In February, Baptist joined the VHA, a national health organization, and 16 other nationally renowned medical facilities for the first-ever hospital-led campaign to improve awareness and treatment of heart disease in women. This local initiative includes a phone line dedicated to providing information and resources to women in the Memphis community on this issue. Top area physicians, community leaders and heart patients have joined this committee to help spearhead this initiative in Memphis. Local and national quality health care providers are committed to empowering all women and giving them an advantage over heart disease.

Now that you’re armed with this information, it’s up to you to take action. Become your own health advocate. Talk to your physician about the risk factors for women and take steps to reduce your susceptibility to heart disease. Start now.


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