Did you know that heart disease is the #1 killer of women, including here in Vermont?
Across the United States a woman dies every minute. We are paying attention to this at the UVM Medical Center this month, as we participate in American Heart Month. For the past 11 years, the “Go Red for Women” movement has been working hard to raise awareness of heart disease in women – and it’s working! Prior to this campaign, women were less informed than they are now. We are seeing results in declining death rates from heart disease as well. But, we need to go further.
Every person (yes, men, too) needs to understand the symptoms to watch for and the health factors that cause this common disease to occur. The most common symptom of a heart attack is pressure or pain in the chest. It isn’t always a severe pain and it doesn’t always occur, but you need to pay attention to it if you have it. There can also be jaw pain, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and even back pain. Symptoms usually come on with activity and go away with rest. I highly recommend this video, “Just a Little Heart Attack” to everyone. It gives you an idea of how women tend to react to these symptoms, and shows you that even a busy, fit young mother can have a heart attack.
How to we prevent heart attack?
- Follow a healthy lifestyle
- Know your numbers
- Work with your health care provider to keep your numbers normal
OK, what’s a healthy lifestyle? According to the American Heart Association, this includes:
- Not smoking
- Weekly exercise (75 minutes or more at vigorous intensity or 150 minutes or more at moderate intensity)
- Keeping your weight normal (body-mass index <25 kg/m2)
- Eating a healthy diet (fruits and vegetables, fish, fiber-rich whole grains, low sodium and minimal sugary beverages)
What do I mean by “your numbers” being healthy? These are:
- Blood pressure less than 120/80 cholesterol less than 200
- Blood sugar less than 100
It is important to talk with your health care provider about these numbers and what the best level is for you, but if you don’t know the numbers, there is nothing you can do about them. Be aware and take charge of your health!
Heart Month is a good time to start taking charge of your health. How do you start? If you are a smoker you must find a way to quit. After that, get a check-up and learn your numbers. Then figure out which lifestyle factor you can tackle, and just do it! The My Life Check website is a helpful tool you can use to get started.
Mary Cushman, M.D. MSc, is a hematologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center where she is Medical Director for the Thrombosis and Hemostasis Program. She is Professor of Medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. She currently serves on the Vermont board of directors for the American Heart Association and board member of the Cardiovascular Research Institute of Vermont.