Women and Heart Disease: Can You Outrun It?

This month, a lot of us are focusing on matters of the heart: Valentine’s Day, to be exact. But it’s also American Heart Month, especially important because heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. I went to a seminar at Bay Area Regional Medical Center last week to learn more about women and heart disease. Here’s what Dipsu Patel, M.D. had to say.

Women and Heart Disease: It’s Sneaky

Dr. Patel sees some interesting symptoms in women with heart disease. Women don’t have the typical symptoms of a heart attack when they’re having one; it stands to reason that there are others that are unusual.

“My foot hurts” was one complaint from a patient. Her foot was ice cold, and she had no circulation to her foot. Another complaint was, “My head hurts – did I pass out?” In both cases, the patients had blockages.

But You Can Outrun Heart Disease

Dr. Patel focused mainly on how to prevent heart disease. It’s no surprise that the number one risk factor is obesity, and his biggest recommendation is to lose weight, using guidelines from the American College of Cardiology: make sustainable changes, eat 1200-1500 calories per day (for women),  choose lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. It’s pretty much everything we know: don’t smoke, keep your blood pressure down. What surprised me, though, is that if you’re diabetic, you have an elevated risk of heart disease.

Decreasing risk factors is the most important thing we as women can do to reduce our risk. Heredity does play a role – the younger a parent was when he or she died of cardiac failure, the higher you’re at risk. But you can outrun heart disease, literally and figuratively. The best takeaway was when Dr. Patel said, “Genetics are not destiny.” They’re not. Remember that when someone talks about “bad genes.” Yes, you may be more likely, but if you’re vigilant, you’ll live a long, healthy life.