National Wear Red Day Puts Focus on Women and Heart Disease

February is not only Valentine’s Day month, but it has also been declared Women’s Heart Disease Awareness Month. Since the risk of breast cancer is in the media often, you may be thinking that it is the Number 1 killer for women, but that is not true.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people in North America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 631,636 people died from this condition in 2006. About half of them were women.

Whether you choose to wear red on Friday (February 5) to show your support for women and heart disease in this way, there are things you can do to lower your risk of being another statistic. I know it’s not New Year’s Day, but why don’t you make a resolution to start taking better care of your heart, starting right now?

You may not have any say about the genetic factors that affect your risk of heart disease, but you do have choices about what you eat. Start by reading labels so that you are aware of what you are consuming. Most processed foods are full of fat, salt and sugar and all of these ingredients consumed in excess are harmful to your heart. The advice about buying your groceries from the aisles located around the perimeter of the store is true. That’s where you find fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products and whole grain products.

Women tend to put themselves at the bottom of the list when it comes to looking after themselves, and in this case, it is a matter of life and death. If you want to do something for yourself this Valentine’s Day, decide that you love yourself enough to look after your health and reduce your risk of becoming a number when it comes to women and heart disease.

Having Hot Flashes? You May Be at Increased Risk of Heart Disease

Hot flashes are common for women who are going through menopause. The sensation of feeling warm, flushing, and sweating can be a mild nuisance or enough of a problem to need medical treatment. They may also be an indication that you need to be concerned about heart disease.

At the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society, researchers shared the results of a study indicating that these symptoms may be a sign of increased risk of heart disease. The research, conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, found that women who experienced hot flashes were also more likely to have a thickening of the carotid arteries, located in the neck.

This thickening of the arteries puts the women at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Further research is needed to determine how hot flashes and thickened arteries are related.

Social Stress and Heart Disease Linked

People who have fewer resources available to them to deal with the stresses of everyday life are at a higher risk of heart disease, a new study has found. The research was conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the results were published in the latest issue of Obesity.

People who are under high levels of social stress are more likely to put on weight in the abdominal region, and excess belly fat speeds up the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels. The real culprit in the development of excess fat in the midsection has been linked to stress hormones.

Women usually have a certain level of protection against developing heart disease. On average, they develop the disorder about 10 years later than men do. Women who are under a lot of stress and who have excess belly fat lose this protection.

Migraines Linked to Heart Disease in Women

If you are a middle-aged or a senior woman who experiences migraines with auras (flashing lights or an aroma that indicates an episode is imminent), your risk of heart disease or stroke is higher than for women who don’t get migraines. A new study indicates that frequent migraines (more than once a month) may be a risk factor for these medical conditions.

The study, conducted by Dr. Tobias Kurth, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, followed 27,798 female health professionals ages 45 and older for 12 years. Women who had migraines with auras once a week were four times more likely to have had a stroke during the time they participated in the study than women who didn’t have frequent migraines. Women who had migraines less than once a month were twice as likely to have had a stroke than women who don’t get migraine headaches.

Chemical Found in Food Containers, Heart Disease Linked

A chemical used to in coatings applied to the interior of food and beverage containers and clear plastic bottles has been linked to heart disease, and women are especially at risk. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have discovered that bisphenol A (BPA) may be responsible for arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).

BPA is used in several items that we use on a regular basis, including bottle tops and baby bottles. In use for the past 50 years, it is also found in dental fillings and sealants. This material has previously been linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, and certain neurological defects.

The current study, conducted on mice, showed that BPA acts on the heart in the same way as estrogen does; it changes the concentration of free calcium in the heart muscle and causes it to beat in an irregular manner.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in North America, and yet most of us are more concerned about (and are better educated about) breast cancer. Part of the problem is that most of the symptoms that we think of as being signs of heart disease or a heart attack are based on what a man would experience. Women are wired differently, and they tend to experience symptoms that they (and their doctors) don’t necessarily associate with heart disease or a heart attack.

The classic signs of a heart attack that most of us “know” to watch out for are severe chest pains that radiate down to the left arm. When women have a heart attack, the symptoms can be a little harder to pin down. A woman may be having a heart attack if she experiences the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting

This collection of symptoms may have the woman thinking that she is overdoing it and that she needs to cut back on her schedule a bit or that she needs to get some more rest. She may not immediately think that she should go to the closest Emergency Room to be assessed. It’s even possible for a woman to have a heart attack without experiencing any symptoms. The first, “silent” heart attack may only be detected after the woman has had a second one.

Another barrier to women getting prompt treatment for heart problems is the women themselves. Instead of taking the time to seek medical attention, they tend to continue on with their already-packed schedules. Here are signs that you need to be aware of that merit an immediate trip to the ER:

  • Pain or pressure in the chest, back, neck, or jaw (it may feel like a burning sensation)
  • Sudden nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Sweating that starts suddenly
  • Feeling tired (sudden onset)

As a precaution to prevent blood clots when you experience these kinds of symptoms, chew an Aspirin. It may not taste very good, but chewing the pill means that it will be absorbed into your bloodstream a lot quicker than if you try taking it with water.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is also known as “hardening of the arteries.” It is caused when the arteries (the blood vessels that carry oxygen-laden blood to the heart and other organs) are narrowed due to the presence of plaque. Plaque is made up of calcium, cholesterol, fat, some other substances that are present in the blood. Over time, the plaque can attach itself to the interior artery walls and reduce the blood flow. As time goes on, more and more plaque is built up and this can lead to heart attacks or stroke, sometimes with fatal results.

Arteries Affected by Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis can affect arteries in different parts of the body, not just the ones that go into heart. The arteries in your brain, arms, legs, or pelvis can also be affected.

It’s possible to have atherosclerosis without having any symptoms. You may not be aware that you have the condition until you have a heart attack or stroke.

Treatment for Atherosclerosis

If you have been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, your doctor will recommend some lifestyle changes to treat the disorder. You will need to eat well, which means following a low-fat diet that includes a variety of foods. Lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables are all a part of healthy eating.

Getting regular exercise is another part of keeping your heart and arteries healthy. Once your doctor gives you the go-head to exercise, you can start slowly.

You don’t need to join a gym to be active, but you do need to stick to the plan. If signing up for an exercise class will help you to stay motivated to exercise, then do it. Some people find that getting an exercise buddy helps. You can decide to go for a walk regularly or go to the gym together and help each other stay on track.

Since smoking increases your risk of developing atherosclerosis, your doctor will advise you to quit. It can be a hard habit to break, but there are a number of methods you can try. Prescription medications, nicotine patches, gum, and acupuncture are all ways to help you get off cigarettes for good.

Marriage Stress Leads to Heart Disease in Women

Having a marriage that is strained can lead to health conditions that increase a woman’s risk of heart disease. The stress from relationship woes can lead to high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and obesity. This combination of symptoms are a recipe heart disease, and a good reason to find a way to resolve problems in a marriage, though counseling if necessary.

In contrast, marital strife doesn’t affect men in the same way. The research on this subject appears to indicate that women are more sensitive to emotional strife in their relationships than men are. (Most married women would likely agree with that idea.)

Preeclampsia Linked to Heart Disease

Preeclampsia is a term used to describe pregnancy-induced hypertension. This is a potentially fatal condition that tends to affect women who are heavier and who have higher cholesterol levels than average. The woman’s blood pressure will return to normal after she gives birth.

Studies have shown that having preeclampsia during pregnancy will double or triple a woman’s risk of developing heart disease later in life. If you have been diagnosed with preeclampsia during pregnancy, it’s important that your doctor be proactive in checking for signs of heart disease in subsequent years. If he or she doesn’t bring it up, then you should.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Heart Disease in Women Linked

Researchers at Harvard and Johns Hopkins have released the results of a 14-year study on women with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and heart disease. The results were very interesting, to say the least: Women who had at least five symptoms of PTSD were at an increased risk for developing heart disease. The risk factor increased by 300 percent.

PTSD falls under the category of anxiety disorders, which affect approximately 10 percent of the general population. Both children and adults can develop symptoms, which can be so severe that they interfere with normal living.

After being involved in a traumatic event, such as an accident, natural disaster, combat, or being the victim of a crime, the individual may start to experience flashbacks or nightmares. In the second phase of the disorder, the person feels emotionally numb and starts to avoid places or circumstances that remind them of the traumatic event.

As the disorder progressed, the person may have difficulty sleeping. Insomnia is common for people with PTSD, and they may have trouble focusing on tasks they need to perform. Some people living with PTSD become more aggressive as the disorder develops.

The results of the study into PTSD and heart disease in women point to women with the disorder being identified as an “at risk” portion of the population. Not only do they need to get treatment for the PTSD, but they must also be made aware of the increased risk of heart disease the disorder poses for them. Doctors need to provide information about ways to reduce the risk and encourage their patients to implement them at a time when they are not feeling at their best. The results of this study underscore the need for women with PTSD to seek prompt treatment for the condition, since there can be serious health consequences along with the effects of the PTSD itself.