There is no doubt that heart disease is a serious disease that may kill more women than cancer.
But the important thing for women to know is how to prevent the disease from occurring.
Readers need to know the real definition of heart disease prevention.
Physicians always talk about controlling risk factors including high blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index by using drugs such as statins and aspirin.
For instance, The New York Times today cited Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, a practicing cardiologist and researcher, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute as saying that “Men 45 and older and women over age 65 should take an aspirin every day to prevent heart attacks and strokes” although she did not mention any other means of prevention.
But these risk factors physicians are talking about should be viewed as secondary risk factors.
We need to know the primary risk factors, that is, what cause these secondary risk factors.
And we actually know pretty well that inadequate dietary practice and lifestyle can increase the risk of these risk factors including blood pressure and cholesterol among others.
Can we follow a healthy diet and lifestyle to prevent heart disease or do we have to use drugs?
Some people are smart enough to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle to prevent heart disease and such an approach has proved effective.
For instance, a restrictive diet such as Ornish diet can help stop or even reverse progression of heart disease in 99 percent of men and women, according to Dean Ornish, M.D.
No matter you choose drugs or a healthy lifestyle to prevent heart disease, you need to know that you should not wait for heart disease to develop and then deal with it.
The disease can develop early in your life without any symptoms, according to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a nutrition professor from
The following is cited from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
What is Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease is the main form of heart disease.
It is a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack.
A heart attack happens when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.
Often referred to simply as heart disease, it is one of several cardiovascular diseases, which are diseases of the heart and blood vessel system.
Other cardiovascular diseases include stroke, high blood pressure, angina (chest pain), and rheumatic heart disease.
One reason some women aren't too concerned about heart disease is that they think it can be "cured" with surgery.
This is a myth.
Heart disease is a lifelong condition—once you get it, you'll always have it.
True, procedures such as bypass surgery and angioplasty can help blood and oxygen flow to the heart more easily.
But the arteries remain damaged, which means you are more likely to have a heart attack.
What's more, the condition of your blood vessels will steadily worsen unless you make changes in your daily habits.
Many women die of complications from heart disease, or become permanently disabled.
That's why it is so vital to take action to prevent and control this disease.
What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease.
They can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse.
Important risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about are:
High blood pressure
High blood cholesterol
Being physically inactive
Having a family history of early heart disease
Age (55 or older for women)
Some risk factors, such as age and family history of early heart disease, can't be changed.
For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55.
After menopause, women are more apt to get heart disease, in part because their body's production of estrogen drops.
Women who have gone through early menopause, either naturally or because they have had a hysterectomy, are twice as likely to develop heart disease as women of the same age who have not yet gone through menopause.
Another reason for the increasing risk is that middle age is a time when women tend to develop risk factors for heart disease.
Family history of early heart disease is another risk factor that can't be changed.
If your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mother or sister had one before age 65, you are more likely to get heart disease yourself.
While certain risk factors cannot be changed, it is important to realize that you do have control over many others.
Regardless of your age, background, or health status, you can lower your risk of heart disease—and it doesn't have to be complicated.
Protecting your heart can be as simple as taking a brisk walk, whipping up a good vegetable soup, or getting the support you need to maintain a healthy weight.
Some women believe that doing just one healthy thing will take care of all of their heart disease risk.
For example, they may think that if they walk or swim regularly, they can still smoke and stay fairly healthy. Wrong!
To protect your heart, it is vital to make changes that address each risk factor you have.
You can make the changes gradually, one at a time.
But making them is very important.
Other women may wonder:
If I have just one risk factor for heart disease—say, I'm overweight or I have high blood cholesterol—aren't I more or less "safe"?
Each risk factor greatly increases a woman's chance of developing heart disease.
But having more than one risk factor is especially serious, because risk factors tend to "gang up" and worsen each other's effects.
So, the message is clear:
Every woman needs to take her heart disease risk seriously—and take action now to reduce that risk.
How Do I Find Out if I Am at Risk for Heart Disease?
The first step toward heart health is becoming aware of your own personal risk for heart disease.
Some risks, such as smoking cigarettes, are obvious:
every woman knows whether or not she smokes.
But other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, generally don't have obvious signs or symptoms.
So you'll need to gather some information to create your personal "heart profile."
You and Your Doctor:
A Heart Healthy Partnership
A crucial step in determining your risk is to see your doctor for a thorough checkup.
Your physician can be an important partner in helping you set and reach goals for heart health.
But don't wait for your physician to mention heart disease or its risk factors.
Many doctors don't routinely bring up the subject with women patients.
Here are some tips for establishing good, clear communication between you and your doctor:
Tell your doctor you want to keep your heart healthy and would like help in achieving that goal.
Ask questions about your chances of developing heart disease and how you can lower your risk.
(See "Questions To Ask Your Doctor" on page 15 of The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women.)
Also ask for tests that will determine your personal risk factors.
(See "Check It Out" (PDF, 46K) on page 16 of The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women.)
Keep tabs on treatment.
If you already are being treated for heart disease or heart disease risk factors, ask your doctor to review your treatment plan with you.
Is what I'm doing in line with the latest recommendations?
Are my treatments working?
Are my risk factors under control?
If your doctor recommends a medical procedure, ask about its benefits and risks.
Find out if you will need to be hospitalized and for how long, and what to expect during the recovery period.
When your doctor asks you questions, answer as honestly and fully as you can.
While certain topics may seem quite personal, discussing them openly can help your doctor find out your chances of developing heart disease.
It can also help your doctor work with you to reduce your risk.
If you already have heart disease, briefly describe each of your symptoms.
Include when each symptom started, how often it happens, and whether it has been getting worse.
Keep it simple.
If you don't understand something your doctor says, ask for an explanation in simple language.
Be especially sure you understand how to take any medication you are given.
If you are worried about understanding what the doctor says, or if you have trouble hearing, bring a friend or relative with you to your appointment.
You may want to ask that person to write down the doctor's instructions for you.
Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Heart Disease
Menopausal hormone therapy once seemed the answer for many of the conditions women face as they age. It was thought that hormone therapy could ward off heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer, while improving women's quality of life.
But beginning in July 2002, findings emerged from clinical trials that showed this was not so.
In fact, long-term use of hormone therapy poses serious risks and may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The findings come from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), launched in 1991 to test ways to prevent a number of medical disorders in postmenopausal women.
It consists of a set of clinical studies on hormone therapy, diet modification, and calcium and vitamin D supplements; an observational study; and a community prevention study.
The two hormone therapy clinical studies were both stopped early because of serious risks and the failure to prevent heart disease.
Briefly, the estrogen-plus-progestin therapy increased women's risk for heart attacks, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer.
It also doubled the risk of dementia and did not protect women against memory loss.
However, the therapy had some benefits:
It reduced the risk for colorectal cancer and bone fractures.
Estrogen-alone therapy increased the risk for stroke and venous thrombosis (blood clot, usually in one of the deep veins of the legs).
It had no effect on heart disease and colorectal cancer, and an uncertain effect on breast cancer.
Estrogen alone gave no protection against memory loss, and there were more cases of dementia in those who took the therapy than those on the placebo, although the increase was not statistically significant.
Estrogen alone reduced the risk for bone fractures.
While questions remain, the findings make possible some advice about using hormone therapy:
Estrogen alone or with progestin should not be used to prevent heart disease.
Talk with your doctor about other ways of preventing heart attack and stroke, including lifestyle changes and medicines such as cholesterol-lowering statins and blood pressure drugs.
If you are considering using menopausal hormone therapy to prevent osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about the possible benefits weighed against your personal risks for heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer.
Ask your doctor about alternative treatments that are safe and effective in preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Do not take menopausal hormone therapy to prevent dementia or memory loss.
If you are considering menopausal hormone therapy to provide relief from menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, talk with your doctor about whether this treatment is right for you.
The WHI did not test the short-term risks and benefits of using hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms.
The current U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendation for menopausal hormone therapy is that it should be used at the lowest dose for the shortest period of time to reach treatment goals.
Your risk for heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and other conditions may change as you age.
So review your health regularly with your doctor.
New treatments that are safe and effective may become available.
If You Have Heart Disease:
Menopausal hormone therapy was once thought to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke for women with heart disease.
But research now shows that women with heart disease should not take it.
Menopausal hormone therapy can involve the use of estrogen alone or estrogen plus progestin. For women with heart disease, estrogen alone will not prevent heart attacks, and estrogen plus progestin increases the risk for heart attack during the first few years of use.
Estrogen plus progestin also increases the risk for blood clots, stroke, and breast cancer.
Tips for Heart Health
Don't smoke, and if you do, quit.
Women who smoke are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than non-smoking women.
Smoking also boosts the risk of stroke and cancer.
Aim for a healthy weight.
It's important for a long, vigorous life.
Overweight and obesity cause many preventable deaths.
Make a commitment to be more physically active.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.
Eat for heart health.
Choose a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and moderate in total fat.
Know your numbers.
Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, triglycerides), and blood glucose.
Work with your doctor to improve any numbers that are not normal.
What Are the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack?
For many people, the first symptom of heart disease is a heart attack.
Therefore, every woman should know how to identify the symptoms of a heart attack and how to get immediate medical help.
Ideally, treatment should start within one hour of the first symptoms.
Recognizing the warning signs, and getting help quickly, can save your life.
Know the Warning Signs
Not all heart attacks begin with sudden, crushing pain, as is often shown on TV or in the movies.
Many heart attacks start slowly as mild pain or discomfort.
The most common warning signs for men and women are:
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
It may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
The discomfort can be mild or severe, and it may come and go.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
Shortness of breath.
May occur along with or without chest discomfort.
Other signs include nausea, light-headedness, or breaking out in a cold sweat.
As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.
But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Get Help Quickly
If you think you, or someone else, may be having a heart attack, you must act quickly to prevent disability or death.
Wait no more than a few minutes—five at most—before calling 9-1-1.
It is important to call 9-1-1 because emergency medical personnel can begin treatment even before you get to the hospital.
They also have the equipment and training to start your heart beating again if it stops.
Calling 9-1-1 quickly can save your life.
Even if you're not sure you're having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 if your symptoms last up to five minutes.
If your symptoms stop completely in less than five minutes, you should still call your doctor.
You also must act at once because hospitals have clot-busting medicines and other artery-opening treatments and procedures that can stop a heart attack, if given quickly.
These treatments work best when given within the first hour after a heart attack starts.
Women tend to delay longer than men in getting help for a possible heart attack.
Many women delay because they don't want to bother or worry others, especially if their symptoms turn out to be a "false alarm."
But when you're facing something as serious as a possible heart attack, it is much better to be safe than sorry.
If you have any symptoms of a possible heart attack that last up to five minutes, call 9-1-1 right away.
When you get to the hospital, don't be afraid to speak up for what you need—or bring someone who can speak up for you.
Ask for tests that can determine if you are having a heart attack.
Commonly given tests include an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), a cardiac enzyme blood test, a nuclear scan, and a coronary angiogram (or arteriogram).
At the hospital, don't let anyone tell you that your symptoms are "just indigestion" or that you're overreacting.
You have the right to be thoroughly examined for a possible heart attack.
If you are having a heart attack, you have the right to immediate treatment to help stop the attack.
Nobody plans on having a heart attack.
But just as many people have a plan in case of fire, it is important to develop a plan to deal with a possible heart attack.
Taking the following steps can preserve your health—and your life:
Learn the heart attack warning signs "by heart."
Talk with family and friends about the warning signs and the need to call 9-1-1 quickly.
Talk with your health care provider about your risk factors for heart attack and how to
Write out a "heart attack survival plan" that has vital medical information and keep it handy.
Arrange in advance to have someone care for your children or other dependents in an
Women and Heart Attack
If you're a woman, you may not believe you're as vulnerable to a heart attack as men–but you are. Women account for nearly half of all heart attack deaths. Heart disease is the number one killer of both women and men.
There are differences in how women and men respond to a heart attack. Women are less likely than men to believe they're having a heart attack and more likely to delay in seeking emergency treatment.
Further, women tend to be about 10 years older than men when they have a heart attack. They are more likely to have other conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure–making it all the more vital that they get proper treatment fast.
Women should learn the heart attack warning signs. These are:
Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest.
Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
Other symptoms, such as a shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
If you feel heart attack symptoms, do not delay. Remember, minutes matter! Do not wait for more than a few minutes–5 minutes at most–to call 9-1-1. Your family will benefit most if you seek fast treatment.
To learn more about women and heart disease:
Healthy Heart Handbook for Women.
National Women's Health Information Center: September 11 is National 9-1-1 Day