Marshall Cardiology sees women of all ages who are dealing with cardiac disease and cardiac risk factors. The five physicians and supporting nurse practitioners have a special interest in helping women prevent and manage heart disease. Many women are surprised heart disease remains the number one cause of death in American women.
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According to cardiologist Scott Yoder, MD, that may be in part because women can suffer from less recognized angina (heart pain) and heart attack symptoms.
“Women seem to be affected differently than men,” he said. “They develop coronary disease later in life and often have atypical symptoms, sometimes making it difficult to diagnose. In part because they have these atypical symptoms, women tend to keep dealing with symptoms and brushing them aside as other, less critical problems.”
Not your “typical” heart attack
After time, when heart disease narrows and clogs arteries, it can have an acute episode and result in what we all know as heart attack. This happens when cholesterol built up under the artery wall bursts causing a clot and stopping blood flow to the heart muscle. It’s important to recognize that not everyone, and certainly not every woman, experiences the classic “crushing in the chest” or pain down the left arm that we know so well.
Yoder said that women — more than men — tend to experience uncommon symptoms of a heart attack.
“In fact, women don’t always have the telltale symptom of severe chest pain or pressure. Rather, they are more likely to feel jaw or neck pain, sharp chest pain or uncomfortable chest pressure,” he said. “They are also more likely to experience lingering shortness of breath (especially with exertion), dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure and fatigue.”
These subtler symptoms may lead some women to dismiss the thought of a heart attack. Cardiologists recommend that the most important thing you can do is know your own body. Listen to it and respond if you feel something just isn’t right. You may be correct and if you ever experience symptoms suggestive of a heart attack, call 911 for an ambulance ride. Don’t try to drive yourself or wait it out. Get help immediately.
Prevent and protect
There are many risk factors for heart disease. Some are not preventable: age, family history and menopause are not under a person’s control. However, much of the risk can be reduced with attention to smoking cessation, and control of blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. These are all significant risk factors for heart disease that can be controlled with a good diet, regular exercise and, if those fail, medication.
Yoder shared the top goals for heart health by the American Heart Association:
1. Engage in regular physical activity
2. Eat a healthy diet
3. Don’t smoke — if you do, quit
4. Maintain a healthy weight
5. Manage blood pressure
6. Control cholesterol
7. Keep blood sugar at healthy levels.
Yoder said, “The big secret is, if you take care of 1, 2 and 3 above, it’s a good bet the rest will follow. Some tips I would share about physical activity is first of all, that some is better than none, and that more is better. Exercise and diet, healthy living, is the single most important thing you can do to prevent heart disease. As a society, many of us simply don’t do what we know we need to do and it’s a tremendous missed opportunity. Eat right! Get up and move! I’ve yet to have a patient come back complaining they felt worse after making those changes.”
He recommends at least 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic exercise (any activity to the point you are breathing a little heavier) five days a week, or 45 minutes three days a week. And while he said it’s true that little amounts add up, in general, getting it all at once is preferred. It’s also a fantastic way to improve your mood and overall happiness.
For diet, eat appropriate amounts of and better foods. The American Heart Association Website has excellent guides for healthy eating. Essentially, focus on getting more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low fat and low salt foods. Avoid canned and processed foods and take some time to plan out your meals and snacks in advance so you’re not getting desperate and grabbing junk and fast food because it’s easy.
These are easy fixes that can help you take charge of your health and your heart.
Marshall Cardiology has three locations in Placerville, Cameron Park and El Dorado Hills. Visit marshallmedical.org/cardiology for more information.