Are you ready for National Wear Red Day?

HeartTowerHeart disease is the #1 killer of women and even more deadly than all cancers put together, killing 1 in 3 women every year.   The month of February has been declared National Heart Month supporting a movement by the American Heart Association called “Go Red for women.”

February 7th 2014 is National Wear Red Day, for both men and women to increase awareness of the disease prevalence in women and advocate for more research.

Why the focus on women and not men?  Because more women die annually from heart disease than men.  Also, research has proven that women are much less likely to act on the signs of a heart attack.  Only 1 out of 5 women believe heart disease is their biggest health threat.

To combat that, here are some of the risk factors for women, signs and symptoms, and steps you can take to prevent heart disease.

Risks

Risk factors for heart disease in men and women can be very similar.  There are a few that only women need to be aware of and some can even be changed.  Regardless, the more risk factors you have, the higher your risk will be for a cardiovascular incident.  Some factors that we can change or alter would be: smoking, physical inactivity, weight, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Some risk factors, such as family history and age, cannot be changed.   If a close relative had a heart attack such as father/brother, had a heart attack before age 55, or a mother/sister before age 65, you are more likely to experience heart disease.   Also, women are at higher risk after age 55 and after menopause due to lower estrogen production.  While you can’t change these factors, even minor changes to your lifestyle can improve your heart health and lower your risk.

Signs and Symptoms

The classic sign of a heart attack is chest pressure or feeling like you have an elephant on your chest; however women will not always experience chest pressure when experiencing a cardiovascular incident.  According to the American Heart Association, women may experience more nausea, upper back pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, extreme fatigue, and/or pressure or pain in the upper abdomen.

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms for more than a few minutes or if it goes away and comes back, dial 9-1-1 and follow the operator’s instructions.  DO NOT drive yourself to the hospital!  Wait for medical professionals to reach you; they are trained professionals that you would prefer the company of in case the situation becomes more severe.

Prevention

Whether you’ve already experienced a cardiovascular incident or only have one risk factor for heart disease, the steps you take to change your lifestyle can reduce your risk by as much as 80 percent according to American Heart Association.

  • QUIT SMOKING: Quit smoking, or any tobacco use for that matter.  If you need help, many employers may offer a tobacco cessation program or discounts for aids.  Also, you can use telephonic coaching through 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
  • EXERCISE: After a heart attack, you may be encouraged to participate in cardiac rehabilitation.  This is a supervised exercise, including monitoring of your heart rate, blood pressure and cardiac electrical activity.  Most of these facilities are located within hospitals with trained professionals, there’s no better place to be in case something goes wrong.  Take that opportunity to change your lifestyle.  If you’re just looking to get started, consult your physician and make sure you’re cleared for exercise, then hit the gym.  Many fitness centers offer a complimentary session with a trainer to get you started but you can also utilize www.acefitness.org or www.aha.org for resources.
  • Manage stress: Stress will raise your heart rate and blood pressure.  Continuous stress will give your body no rest, keeping your heart rate raised and blood pressure increased.  Finding ways to manage your stress, such as exercise, journaling, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can help and reduce your risks to your health.
  • Healthy eating: More fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, poultry, fish and nuts.  www.choosemyplate.gov
  • EDUCATION: Educate yourself.  YOU are your own best health advocate.  Attending regular exams, complying with a treatment plan, reading about your health, and asking questions are the best tools in an arsenal against heart disease.

If you would like more educational information, or to see if you are at risk, can be found at  www.goredforwomen.org

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