Myths About Women’s Heart Health

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Myth #1: The Pain Is In My Arm, Not My Chest, So I Don’t Have To Worry

Reality: Women die from heart attacks because they often don’t recognize the symptoms until it’s too late. Until recently, many health-care providers also missed heart attacks in women (and still do occasionally) because women don’t always have the same symptoms as men do.

Men usually have heaviness in the left side of their chest, a feeling that’s often described as having an elephant sitting on top of them. It can be accompanied by pain down the left arm or up the neck, sweating and shortness of breath.

Some women do have the same symptoms as men. But many women having a heart attack don’t have chest pain at all. They may have jaw, arm, back or stomach pain or an overwhelming feeling of fatigue, along with shortness of breath. Or they may feel as if they have a bad flu and may experience nausea and vomiting.

The most common warning signs were unusual fatigue, sleep problems, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety.

Myth #2: I Have To Stay Away From All Fats

Reality: For years, the emphasis was on the importance of a low-fat diet, especially for heart health. It’s no wonder that when many people hear the word “fats,” they think “unhealthy.”

But some fats are actually good for us. New dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association consider “good” and “bad” fat which, thankfully, leads to a much tastier way of eating.

Unsaturated fats are “good” fats, coming mostly from plant or vegetable sources, and not from red meat. These are called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; that’s how you’ll see these good fats named on food labels. Examples are olive oil, flaxseed oil and fish oil (such as from salmon).

“Good” fats should be incorporated into our daily diets. Cooking with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkling ground flaxseed on yogurt or cereal, and eating wild salmon are easy ways to do this.

Use low-fat dairy products (or those labeled “no fat”), limit the amount of red meat you eat, and avoid margarine, fried foods and snack foods. You’ll help your heart, stay at a healthy weight and feel better!

Myth #3: I’m a Type A personality, So A Heart Attack Is Inevitable

Reality: Although a lot of attention has been paid to the negative health effects of the hard-driving, high-stress lifestyle, many studies have shown having a Type A personality alone does not mean a higher incidence of heart disease.

But some factors associated with a Type A personality – high blood pressure, smoking and lack of exercise – are risk factors.

Feelings associated with an increased risk are depression, a negative outlook, and anger and hostility. So make mental and spiritual health a priority. Get help for depression and feelings of constant anger and hostility. Connect with others to improve your sense of well-being. Of course, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly are extremely important for both physical and mental health.

Myth #4: Only Middle-Aged People Have Heart Attacks

Reality: Women are relatively protected from heart disease until menopause. But premenopausal women with diabetes, a genetic form of high cholesterol (known as familial hyperlipidemia), untreated high blood pressure, and those who smoke or are overweight, are especially at risk for heart disease, no matter their age.

Myth #5: My Weight And Cholesterol Are Normal, So I’m Not At Risk For Heart Disease

Reality: Maintaining a healthy weight and having normal total cholesterol levels are important for artery health, but these factors aren’t enough to guarantee heart health. Other risk factors increase your chances of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). Some can be changed; others can’t.

Risk factors that can’t be changed include: getting older, gender, heredity and having had a prior heart attack or stroke. Risk increases as you age. Men are more at risk than pre-menopausal women; after menopause, women are equally at risk. Having a family member with heart disease or who has had a heart attack at an early age is a major risk factor. Risk factors that can be changed are high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, stress and depression, hormone replacement therapy in older women, high total cholesterol and being overweight.

What can you do to lower your risk?

    • Have your blood pressure checked regularly, and ask your doctor to test your blood glucose and total cholesterol levels.
    • Stop smoking now!
    • Start exercising regularly.
    • Talk to your doctor about stress reduction and options to control depression.
    • Also, discuss hormone replacement therapy after menopause; it should be taken for a limited time, and some women should not take it at all.

Also, let your doctor know if you have a family history of heart disease so that they can take that factor into account when treating you.

If you know your risk factors for heart disease, then you have the power to keep yourself heart-healthy.

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