Photo by Peter Wendt
When I was asked to write an article on women’s health, I realized that we women experience unique health issues and conditions, beginning from our teen and pre-teen years up to menopause and beyond. I initially started my research on conditions specific to women. While women’s health can be impacted by numerous adverse conditions such as uterine fibroids, breast and ovarian cancer, menopause, and other “female conditions, it's actually heart disease that kills more women than all of the cancers put together!
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 299,578 women in 2017—or about 1 in every 5 female deaths. It is the supreme culprit that’s cutting down our lifespan. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 56% of women recognize that heart disease is their #1 killer.
We are supposed to outlive the men…aren’t we? So why are so many of us dying from heart disease? Of all the “women specific” diseases I researched, the common thread through all was PREVENTION. If we cannot prevent the disease, since some of us have inherited genes of heart disease, we will settle with knowing the early signs and symptoms that will allow us to be diagnosed and treated early.
Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a man’s disease, almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease in the United States. According to the National Vital Statistics Reports, heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among American Indian and Alaska Native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.
PREVENTION, PREVENTION, PREVENTION! These are powerful words in the health-care industry, because prevention of disease prolongs lives! We cannot stress this enough. Few of us know the risk we run of collapsing from a heart attack or a stroke. Although our female hormone, estrogen, protects us from heart disease when we’re younger, factors such as smoking, diabetes, abnormal blood lipids/fats, and even menopause neutralizes this protection.
We all need to be our own strongest patient advocates and challenge our health care teams to routinely speak to us about the warning signs of heart disease, and how crucial it is for us to practice prevention. Our health professionals should be encouraging prevention by giving us advice to lower our chances, like eating healthy, staying active, not smoking, and limiting our alcohol use.
Photo by Fitsum-Admasu
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some lifestyle changing health directives to follow:
- Reduce Sodium in Our Diet
- Manage Stress
- Lose Weight
I understand it’s more difficult during these challenging times to worry about one more thing. But these directives can help you improve your quality of life and help you feel better during these times. Other ways to prevent heart failure is to prevent and control conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Additionally, you should make regular eye doctor visits when you have diabetes. High blood sugar can lead to problems like blurry vision, cataracts, glaucoma, and retinopathy. In fact, people with diabetes are more likely to have glaucoma.
Prevention is the key and is practiced by being aware that heart attacks in women are also more often misdiagnosed or missed, compared to men.
Because many women don’t experience the textbook symptom of chest pain. We experience extreme weakness that feels like the flu, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back, arm or jaw pain. These symptoms can be easily overlooked!
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has discussed the “silent heart attack,” which is just like the name implies, you have no symptoms, and if you do have symptoms, you hopefully are due for your annual physical.
So, please remember that you and your family can be your strongest patient advocates and challenge your health care teams to routinely speak to you about the warning signs of heart disease, and how crucial it is to practice prevention.
by Mollie A. Patterson, RN, MSN, MS, JD
Resident Family & Women's Health Writer