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Women, Take Care of Your Heart

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Heart disease is the most common cause of death for women. That is why the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women day, on Friday, Feb. 5, is an important reminder for women to make their heart health a priority, especially now in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Woman as primary caregivers often care for others first and take care of themselves in the time left over,” said Jacquelyn Sinclair, family nurse practitioner with Samaritan Cardiology - Corvallis. “However, when it comes to heart health, we urge women to care for themselves at least as much as they would for others.”

First, it is important to recognize the symptoms of heart attacks in women.

“Because the symptoms often differ from those of men, women may not recognize they are having a heart attack, which could delay getting help,” said Sinclair. “The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest discomfort, but in women, it can sometimes present with atypical symptoms.”

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Discomfort or pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders or upper back.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Pain in one or both arms.
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or unusual indigestion.
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness or unusual fatigue.

If you have any of these symptoms, seek care right away. If your are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.

Heart disease is largely preventable. Optimize your heart health with these self-care strategies:

Quit Smoking

“Smoking is a major risk factor in heart disease, so quitting is key to improving your health,” said Sinclair.  “Talk with your doctor about ways to stop, such as support groups, medication or hypnosis. Most importantly, if one method doesn’t work for you, don’t give up; try another.”

Eat Healthy

Add fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low or non-fat dairy, fish and lean meats to your diet and skip the saturated fats and trans fats, processed foods and added salt and sugar. Explore the benefits of the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, two heart-healthy diets recommended by cardiologists.

Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and keeps them functioning properly. “We suggest that you exercise moderately for 30 minutes most days of the week. A brisk walk can be enough,” said Sinclair. “Multiple shorter periods of moderate exercise per day equivalent to at least 30 minutes work as well. However, one brisk walk may be enough.”

Take Steps to Lose Excess Weight

Carrying extra weight strains the heart. Fortunately, losing only a few pounds can often make a big difference. “Studies have shown that losing just five to ten percent of your current weight can lessen the risk of heart disease significantly, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and even reverse some health issues altogether,” said Sinclair. To lose pounds, try eating smaller portions, substitute fruit and vegetables for high-fat, high-sugar snacks, and get moderate exercise most days of the week. If you need help with weight loss, talk with your doctor about options for you.

Control Stress

While short-term stress is normal, long-term stress can harm the heart. “When we are under stress, the hormone cortisol is released in the body. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, sleep problems and weight gain – all risk factors for heart disease,” said Sinclair. Explore ways to decrease your stress, such as deep breathing practices, mindfulness techniques and calming exercise like yoga, meditation or tai-chi.

“The American Heart Association’s national Go Red for Women Day is a good time to remember that small, consistent changes can improve heart health,” said Sinclair. “Let this day be the start of your commitment to your heart health.”

Find other useful resources about heart-healthy living at samhealth.org/Heart.

Get tips for making small changes in your daily activities that can add up to significant change for your health.