Women’s Health Issues: Heart Disease
Women’s health issues are ongoing topics of discussion in both national and international political conversations – and among the staff at Women’s Aid Center. We strive to bring affordable, caring medical treatment to women of all ages in the Chicagoland area and as part of that mission, we want to help educate women about their health, health risks, and ways to get (and stay!) healthier. So, we’re planning a series of articles on some of the most pressing women’s health issues in the United States today. Today’s topic? Heart disease. It’s the number one killer of women (and men!) in the United States and for that reason, is something that should be at the forefront of every woman’s mind when she is thinking about or discussing her health.*
But it turns out it’s not always the first thing women think of when they think about their health. While 1 in 3 American women will die from heart disease, only 1 in 5 American women identify heart disease as their biggest health risk. Part of the problem is that many people associate heart disease and heart attacks or strokes with older men – but heart disease, as well as heart attacks and strokes – can and do hit women of any age.
Finding the “Silent Killer”
Another problem is that heart disease is a “silent killer” – there can be very few signs that you are developing heart disease until the day you have a heart attack or a stroke. But while you might not “feel” heart disease developing, there are signs that you may be at higher risk for heart disease. For instance, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, you are at an increased risk for developing heart disease.
But knowledge is power, ladies. Even if you feel fine, we encourage you, no matter what your age is, to get an annual physical exam at Women’s Aid Center. We will check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and certain markers for pre-diabetes and diabetes. If we find that your numbers aren’t optimal, we can help you pinpoint methods to change the path you are on.
What Exactly *IS* Heart Disease?
Heart disease is actually a collection of conditions, all related to the heart, blood vessels, and cardiovascular system. For many people, heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in the interior of their arteries. As the plaque builds, it can restrict the flow of blood through the artery. If a blood clot forms, it can cause a heart attack or a stroke, both of which can be deadly.
Heart disease can take other forms, though. It can also be congestive heart failure (the heart isn’t working or pumping as well as it should), an abnormal heart rhythm (too fast, too slow, or irregularly, making it hard for the heart to supply the entire body with the right amount of blood at the rights times), and heart valve problems (which may restrict blood flow or even cause the blood to flow back into the heart). A thorough physical exam can help detect all of these problems.
How to Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease
Even though heart disease is a major killer for American women, you can take steps today to avoid it. If you smoke, the number one thing you can do to decrease your risk of heart disease is to QUIT. We know that’s easier said than done so if you need help quitting, the staff at Women’s Aid Center is ready and able to help you quit. Please call us today to make an appointment to talk about smoking cessation plans.
Both non-smokers and quitting smokers can also lower their risk for heart disease by increasing their daily activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and lowering high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Here are our top 5 favorite techniques to lower your risk of heart disease, no matter how old you are:
- Add 30 minutes of activity to your daily routine. If you’re not very active, even taking a 30 minute walk (or 5 six minute walks!) a day can help lower your risk of heart disease significantly.
- Cut your sugar intake. We fully admit – this is a tough one! But take it one day and one step at a time at a time. If you usually take 3 sugars in your coffee, opt for 2 and a half tomorrow. After a week, lower it to 2. After another week, lower it by another half. Soon you’ll be going without it and won’t even know the difference. You can also substitute unsweetened tea (iced or hot) for soda or sweetened coffee; cut your dessert portions in half, and switch from white bread to whole grain bread.
- Add a leafy or cruciferous green to every meal. Omelets are great with a bit of spinach. Have a side salad at lunch. Add some steamed broccoli at dinner. These greens can help lower your cholesterol.
- Switch from butter to olive, coconut, or peanut oil. Chicken stir fried in coconut oil gives just a hint of tropical flavor. Scrambled eggs cooked in olive oil are delicious – you won’t even know the difference. Switching from butter can help lower your cholesterol.
- Take up yoga. News flash: you don’t have to be young and limber to do yoga! In fact, most yoga studios offer classes for women (and men) of all ages and abilities. Studies have shown that practicing yoga can help your health in a number of ways, including lowering your stress levels, another risk factor for heart disease.
Heart disease is like a lot of other diseases: prevention is key. If you’d like to learn more about what your risk level for heart disease is and how you can lower it, we’d be happy to discuss it with you. Please call our offices and arrange an appointment today.