February brings to mind visions of red hearts and Valentine's Day, and it is also a good time to think about those diseases which can literally break your heart. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease has surpassed all forms of cancer and is now the number one killer of women in the U.S. It is essential that women learn more about heart disease and address preventative strategies, especially given the fact that 64 percent of women who died of a fatal heart attack had no previous symptoms. Thankfully, due to better screening and outreach, we are making headway in the fight against heart disease. Here are some points that you might want to discuss with your physician about your own cardiovascular Health.
Know your family history. It is important to share with your physician whether or not there is a history of cholesterol issues, stroke, heart attacks or diabetes in your family.
Know your numbers. Women's cholesterol tends to run slightly higher than men's, perhaps due to the effect of our estrogens or use of birth control pills. Having low HDL, or good cholesterol, is particularly problematic. High insulin levels, upward trend in fasting blood sugar or blood pressure issues are also important numbers to look at for cardiovascular risks. In fact, 50 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes already have significant coronary artery disease at the time their diabetes is diagnosed.
Make the changes. There is no way to get around the necessary exercise and dietary changes needed to reduce cardiovascular risks. Limiting processed fats and decreasing sugar is very important, as is getting at least 30 minutes of activity on a daily basis. If your doctor has recommended medications for control of blood pressure, heart rate or blood sugars, it is important to take your medications regularly.
Know the warning signs.We've heard about the chest pressure, arm or jaw pain, nausea and shortness of breath that can herald a heart attack. However, heart disease can have a more subtle presentation and feel like heart burn, shoulder or upper back pain. One the more common symptoms of heart disease is fatigue. Needing to sit down or rest after stairs, housework or other day to day activities should prompt you to have an evaluation by your doctor.
Taking the initiative and discussing your risk factors with your doctor can go a long way in the prevention of a broken heart.
Angela LaSalle, MD practices Integrative Medicine in Carmel, IN and is board certified in Family Medicine. For more information regarding her practice with Indiana Health Group or on other health topics visit www.angelalasallemd.com. For appointments, call 317-843-9922.