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Women and heart disease-take steps to decrease risk

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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"Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus," a best-selling novel several years ago, clearly convinced women that emotionally they differed from men. Unfortunately, despite the American Heart Association's increased awareness campaign for women, 46 percent of women still don't know their relationship to heart disease. Not only are women different from men when it comes to heart disease, but 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.

Every woman should know these key points. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Heart disease doesn't affect all women the same. Warning signs for heart disease are not the same as for men.

Every minute in the United States someone's wife, mother, daughter or sister dies from heart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease. Many things put a female at risk for problems - some they can control and others they can't. With the right information, education and care, heart disease in women can be treated, prevented and even ended. Understanding what heart disease is, knowing the risk factors, knowing the symptoms of heart disease and finally reducing one's chances of heart disease with lifestyle changes depends on oneself.

What is heart disease?

It can take many forms. Heart disease can affect the blood vessels. Many problems relate to atherosclerosis, known as plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries. The plaque in the arteries narrows them, making it harder for blood to flow through. When this happens, the plaque can burst, form a clot and stop blood flow to the heart. This causes a heart attack, or if the vessel is in the brain, a stroke.

Heart disease does not stop there. Heart failure describes the fact that the heart does not pump as well as it should to meet the needs of the body. The body does not receive enough oxygen, and the heart continues to work, but it cannot move blood and fluid through the body sufficiently.

Heart disease can cause irregular, fast or slow heartbeats known as arrhythmias.

Know the risk factors High blood pressure, high bad cholesterol and smoking are the main risk factors for heart disease. Additional risk factors are diabetes, being overweight and obese, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excess alcohol consumption (for women, more than one drink daily).

Symptoms Heart attack symptoms may include chest pain or discomfort, upper back pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea/vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, and shortness of breath. Some women have no pain.

Arrhythmia symptoms may include fluttering feelings in the chest, known as palpitations.

Heart failure symptoms may include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, and/or abdomen.

Stroke symptoms may include sudden weakness, paralysis (inability to move) or numbness of the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body. Other symptoms may include confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, loss of consciousness, or sudden and severe headache.

To reduce chances for getting heart disease, women should check their blood pressure regularly. High blood pressure has no symptoms, but uncontrolled blood pressure increases the work of the heart. Uncontrolled diabetes increases chances of heart disease. Discuss with a healthcare provider regular checks of cholesterol and triglycerides. Daily healthy food choices are vital to decreasing weight and lowering risk for heart disease. Learn healthy ways to cope with stress. Lynn Toth, RN, MSN, NP-C, is a cardiovascular medical specialist at Beebe. She received the Delaware Nurse Excellence Award in 2014.

Copyright 2016 Cape Gazette, Lewes, Delaware. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: July 12, 2016

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