However, despite these national efforts, heart disease (including coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure and irregular heart rhythms) remains the leading cause of death in women today. Fortunately, despite this daunting statistic, heart disease is NOT inevitable.
What can you do to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease? The first thing to do is to identify your risk by answering the following questions:
Does heart disease run in your family? Nearly 2 out of every 3 women in the United States over the age of 20 are overweight. Are you one of them?
Do you have high blood pressure? Are you diabetic? Have you been told your cholesterol is too high? Do you smoke or are you exposed to regular second hand smoke?
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes" you are at higher risk for developing heart disease. Fortunately there are many ways to reduce your risk, and you can start this month. Find a way, if you are not already active, to exercise comfortably. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, five days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as running or biking, three days a week.
Strive for a more heart healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and fish and low in salt and refined sugars. Give up smoking and encourage your family members to do the same. Finally, if you have not had a routine check-up with a physician in a year, schedule one to discuss your risk in more detail.
If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or elevated cholesterol that requires treatment, take an active role in their management. Follow your weight and make adjustments in your diet before you gain another five pounds. Check your blood pressure and glucose regularly and record the results to share with your provider. And, keep a record of your cholesterol and how it's doing over time.
Finally, if you have symptoms that are concerning for a heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure, arm or jaw discomfort, the sudden onset of shortness of breath or nausea, do not wait. Call 911 immediately. For more information on the prevention and recognition of heart disease in women visit the American Heart Association website this month.
Dr. Rhoda B. Brosnan is a Board certified general cardiologist with Asheville Cardiology Associates, and a member of the Western Carolina Medical Society. Dr. Brosnan has been instrumental in expanding the scope of services offered by Asheville Cardiology through her expertise in Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging. She is currently still teaching and is the Course Director for Cardiology for the Asheville Regional Campus of the UNC School of Medicine.