You may have heard that many women die of a broken heart. This is not far from the truth. While not exactly brought on by sadness or lost love, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States and is the cause of death for one out of every four U.S. women.
Heart disease is not only a concern for older women but for all women over the age of 20, particularly those who smoke, are overweight, have high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, diabetes, are anemic, stressed, depressed and for those who don’t exercise or have an unhealthy diet.
DECREASE YOUR RISK
Heart disease occurs — not when a boyfriend dumps or when a loved one dies — but when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries, narrowing them and making it difficult for blood to pass through, which often results in heart attacks and strokes. Sometimes there are risk factors that you can’t control that lead to heart disease — such as family history and aging — but there are plenty of ways to cut down your risk.
The most obvious ways are, of course, not smoking, increasing physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and watching your intake of cholesterol, sugar and sodium, the latter of which is directly tied to high blood pressure.
Heart healthy diet
Dr. Robert Orr is Vail Valley Medical Center’s Cardiology Institute’s new cardiologist, bringing more than 20 years of cardiology experience from his practice in San Diego, before which he was a professor of medicine at Boston Medical Center and founder and director of New Hampshire Cardiology Consultants. In a recent TV8 interview, he points out that women should aim to eat around 2,000 calories per day and men 2,500 — each adding 20 percent if they are very active — and that both should keep their fat intake down to 20 percent of their total calories. Also, he says a healthy guideline for sodium consumption is less than 2,500 milligrams per day, a goal that takes a bit of effort because so many packaged foods have surprisingly high amounts of sodium. Cutting down on sodium, Orr said, directly leads to lower blood pressure.
SYMPTOMS SUBTLE IN WOMEN
It is important to note that while men have more pronounced symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, the symptoms for women are often more subtle.
“Women’s symptoms are less prominent,” Dr. Orr said. “You may be tired. A lot of times you’re not yourself, you just don’t feel right. That’s when you want to seek care.”
Friday is Wear Red Day, a day on which everyone is encouraged to wear red to remind women in particular that heart disease is a very real threat — in fact, their greatest threat. The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute pioneered Wear Red Day in 2003, believing that wearing red — not only the color of the heart but also fashion’s most eye-catching hue — would make more women aware of heart disease being America’s No. 1 killer.
Clearly it’s working. Because now, according to the American Heart Association, heart disease claims the lives of 21 percent fewer women than it did 11 years ago and 23 percent more women know that the disease is their most serious health threat.
“During a month where our attentions turn to hearts and love, it’s a privilege to share the importance of loving our hearts as well,” said Vail Valley Medical Center cardiac rehabilitation manager Jeanne Stough. “We have a great opportunity to choose a lifestyle that can lower our risk, improve our health and leave us to the important task of loving others.”
Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer who was contracted to write this story for the Vail Valley Medical Center. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“During a month where our attentions turn to hearts and love, it’s a privilege to share the importance of loving our hearts as well. We have a great opportunity to choose a lifestyle that can lower our risk, improve our health and leave us to the important task of loving others.”
Vail Valley Medical Center cardiac rehabilitation manager