February is heart health month. I am committed to helping women, especially women living with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, learn all they can to enhance their health and wellbeing.
But I have found that a lot of women do not know the facts when it comes to heart disease. Only 54% of women know that heart disease kills more women than breast or lung cancer.
According to the most recent statistics by the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States in women over the age of 35 years.
Although the rate of death from heart disease for men has dropped in the last thirty years, they have not done so for women. In 2013, heart disease was responsible for killing close to 290,000 women. This translates to 1 in every 4 women dying due to heart disease.
There used to be a time when there was a general belief in the medical community that women under the age of 50 could not suffer a heart attack. So you can imagine what happened if you were a woman and you went to see your doctor with a complaint of chest pain. Your doctor would usually reassure you that it was not your heart and perhaps you had indigestion or were under a lot of stress and prescribe something for that.
As a woman it is extremely important to arm yourself with facts about your heart health.
Some other heart health facts that you need to be aware of:
- Heart disease will kill six times more women this year than breast cancer.
- 71% of women do not experience the early signs of a heart attack as chest pain as do men. They may experience a sudden onset of weakness. Almost 2/3rds of women who die suddenly of heart disease did not have any symptoms.
- Women who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who smoke. The risk of a heart attack is 19 years earlier than women who do not smoke. So think about it, if you are a woman and you have been smoking since you were in your teens (which by my experience is the time that most people start a bad habit like smoking ☺), then your risk of having a heart attack begins to rise toward your forties.
- Type 2 Diabetes increases a woman’s risk of developing heart disease. Women living with diabetes who have had a heart attack have double the risk of having a repeat heart attack in their lifetime or developing heart failure.
- Women with metabolic syndrome have an increased risk of developing heart disease, especially at a younger age.
- Women under the age of 50 have twice the risk of dying from a heart attack as men in the same age range. This is all the more reason to be persistent when something does not seem right. I have often shared that as women we have an inner knowingness about ourselves and/or situations. This is called intuition and you can learn to use it to guide you in all aspects of your life.
- Marital stress worsens the outcome of a heart attack.
What happens to you when you have a heart attack?
When you develop a heart attack, the blood supply to an area of the heart muscle gets blocked off. Sometimes the blockage may not be a complete blockage and blood can still get by to the heart muscle. This is called ischemia or angina. The classic symptoms of angina are chest pain, chest discomfort, and chest heaviness. Sometimes the pain or discomfort may go down the left arm or into the jaw.
As women we may have what is called ‘atypical symptoms’ like unusual weakness, heartburn, dizziness, etc.
But remember just as I pointed out, some women may not have the classic presentation of a heart attack or angina.
The good news is that if the blood supply is restored at this point, then no permanent damage occurs to the heart muscle.
When the blood vessel to a particular are of the heart remains blocked for a period of time, eventually the heart muscle begins to die off. Sometimes the damage cannot be reversed and the heart muscle dies and it is replaced by scar tissue. Scar tissue reduces the functioning of the heart and eventually causes heart failure and death.
It is important to get to an emergency room as soon as possible if you develop any symptoms suspicious for a heart attack. This is because the sooner you get intervention by a heart specialist to open up the blocked vessels the less the risk of permanent damage to your heart.
What you can start doing today:
- Become knowledgeable about your risk for heart disease. Even if you do not have a family history of heart disease you can still be at risk!
- If you smoke then quit. No more excuses! It’s still early in the year and you know you can do it.
If you are obese or even over 10% of your ideal body weight, then commit to losing weight.
- Schedule your annual physical and know your numbers! These numbers include- your blood pressure, fasting lipid profile (cholesterol), and blood sugar. If any of these numbers are outside of normal range then take action and work on getting them back to normal.
- If you have high blood pressure or borderline diabetes or type 2 diabetes, then make sure that you are being treated by the appropriate healthcare professional. Do not ignore this part of your care. Denial only worsens things in the long run.
- Find ways to cope with stress in your life. Stress is so prevalent that we as humans do not believe they can live a stress free life. It is our perception of stress that matters and what we do to modulate its effects.
Now more than ever we as women need to become more pro-active in our overall health and wellbeing. We need to stop making excuses for poor lifestyle choices. More importantly we need to accept that these lifestyle choices not only shorten our lives, but also the quality of the life that we have left. I’m not sure about you but I want to be health and vibrant into my 90s and beyond!
My mission in creating this blog is to provide a whole person approach to living with type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
Along those lines, over the next few months, in addition to the release of my updated book, Dr. Eno’s A-Z Guide to Living Powerfully with Type 2 Diabetes’, I will be rolling out several programs. I look forward to working closely with those who are willing to invest the time and effort to enhance their health and wellbeing.