Valentine’s Day is in February, and people associate February 14 with hearts, candy and romance.
However, February 5 is also important for hearts for another reason. This is “National Wear Red Day.” Red is the color for women and heart disease, and this day has been designated as a reminder that the number one health threat to women is heart disease.
Traditionally, heart disease was thought of as a man’s disease.
Since the mid-80s, heart disease has claimed the lives of more women than men. In fact, women die from heart disease at twice the rate of all cancers combined.
Women do not recognize the risks they face from heart disease. A 2004 survey reported more than half of women responded that cancer was a bigger health threat than heart attacks or strokes.
Part of the problem is that the symptoms in women and men are very different. While chest pain is the most common symptom, 43 percent of women having a heart attack had no chest pain. Other common symptoms in women include shortness of breath; weakness or unusual fatigue; neck/back/jaw or shoulder pains, and nausea or heartburn.
These alternative symptoms are termed “atypical” and therefore are commonly ignored by patients and by physicians. Sometimes the “atypical” nature of these symptoms causes a delay in the triage of patients in Emergency Rooms.
By recognizing that women and men are different when it comes to heart disease, it becomes clear that women need to be treated differently.
It is important to be proactive in preventing heart disease.
In my practice, I form a partnership with patients to work together to lower their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
We talk about the need to control those risk factors that may contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Medications may be necessary to reach goals to be successful in reducing your risks.
A heart healthy diet is also important. This is a diet rich in lean cuts of meat, fish, fresh fruits, vegetables and low in fats and sugars.
Stopping smoking is essential.
We cannot control other risk factors, such as your age or a family history of early heart disease.
Exercise is vital. Women who cannot climb a flight of stairs, or do moderate housework, have a much higher risk of suffering a heart attack. It is never too late to start to exercise. Even small increases in activity can work to reduce your risk.
Blood work can be checked to evaluate your cholesterol or for diabetes. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a blood test that is being recognized as a predictor of heart disease. Vitamin D deficiency is also being investigated as an additional risk for heart disease.
Peripheral arterial disease is also a marker for heart disease, and a simple test called the Ankle-Brachial index (ABI) can be checked to screen for vascular disease.
If you have any risk factors, it is probably wise to be screened for heart disease, even if you have no symptoms.
To learn more on women and heart, I will be speaking at The Ann & Jules Gottlieb Women’s Comprehensive Health Center of Long Island Jewish Medical Center on February 25 at 7 p.m. You can call my office at 516-775-0055 for more information.