Monday Medical: No. 1 cause of death for women
January 27, 2013
Yampa Valley Medical Center is starting out American Heart Month right.
On Friday, Wear Red Day, YVMC will host a free luncheon presentation with Dr. William Baker, cardiologist at Heart Center of the Rockies in Steamboat Springs.
Baker will discuss what women need to know about cardiovascular disease.
"It is important to know two things," Baker said. "The first is that cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke, is the No. 1 cause of death for women.
"The second is that cardiovascular disease is preventable. It can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes."
In this era of constant health alerts about everything from diabetes to breast cancer to weight loss, it is important that the messages about women and heart disease are not lost.
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When it comes to heart disease and women, statistics from the American Heart Association are alarming. In the U.S., more than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease. Since 1984, the number of cardiovascular disease deaths for females has exceeded those for males.
In the U.S. in 2008, breast cancer claimed the lives of 40,589 females. In the same year, cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of 419,730 females. However, only one in five American women thinks heart disease is her greatest health threat.
Bringing it closer to home, the American Heart Association reported that on average, about 10 women die from heart disease and stroke each day in Colorado.
Baker said that it is important for women to talk to their primary care physician about their risk factors for cardiovascular disease and that the conversation should start before menopause.
"There is this misconception that heart disease doesn't happen until after menopause. Plenty of heart disease is discovered before menopause," Baker said.
There are many elements to consider when evaluating your risk factors. For example, it is easy to get your cholesterol checked and look only at that number. If it is within the normal range, that might not represent the entire picture.
Family history might be a contributing factor. For example, someone's cholesterol might be elevated slightly, but her father died of a heart attack. The combination of family history and risk factors has to be examined.
"There are many factors that may elevate one's risk of cardiovascular disease. Anything that heightens one's risk is a concern," Baker said.
One reason that Baker's presentation is aimed at women is that the symptoms of heart disease are experienced differently by women than men. Therefore, the early warning signs might be missed.
"When women do come in for treatment, they are frequently at higher risk of complications because their disease is more developed," Baker said.
And when it comes to a heart attack, women may experience some time type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest, but it is not the crushing pain often associated with heart attacks. Women may experience the following symptoms:
■ Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
■ Shortness of breath
■ Nausea or vomiting
■ Lightheadedness or dizziness
■ Unusual fatigue
If you experience any of the above symptoms or think you're having a heart attack, immediately call for emergency medical help.
"Women need to take cardiovascular disease seriously. They also need to know that if they are at risk of heart disease, there are medications and lifestyle changes that can help. It is treatable," Baker said.
Rosie Kern is the manager of marketing and communications at YVMC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.