Heart to heart 0
If you're a woman, you're likely blaming that pain in your chest on lunch, stress or a pulled muscle.
But what if it's your heart?
"Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 killer of Canadian women," says Ottawa cardiologist Dr. Kathryn Ascah. "Women have to acknowledge when and if there might be a heart issue, because heart attacks can kill whereas a stomach problem like hiatus hernia can't."
Every seven minutes in Canada someone dies from a heart attack or stroke.
"Heart is muscle," says Ascah who is also acting director of the Echocardiography Laboratory at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. "If you come into the ER and your symptoms turn out not to be cardiac, that's OK. But take it seriously because heart attacks, with what we know now, can be aborted. If you wait it can be too late."
1. Fat is good.
Women often turn to non-fat diets, but good fats such as Omega-3 fish oils can actually protect the heart. Still, women 19 to 74 should eat no more than 13 teaspoons of fat daily. (One large muffin equals four teaspoons of fat.)
2. Are you a bad apple?
Apple-shaped women have a higher risk for heart-disease, compared to women with pear-shaped bodies. For women, a waist circumference of less than 88 cm or 35 inches means a lower risk for heart disease.
3. Good riddance to skinny thighs.
A recent Danish study found that women with fatter thighs have a lower risk of heart disease and premature death than women with thighs less than 60 cm or 23.6 inches in circumference.
Women often present with angina (discomfort or chest pain that may come and go and occurs when part of the heart muscle isn't receiving adequate oxygen-rich blood), says Ascah, who adds that men more often present with thundering chest pain and acute heart attacks. Pay attention: Angina is often mistaken for indigestion.
5. Heart history.
Women should make sure their doctors do a full heart history and risk assessment based on family and lifestyle factors such as smoking. Cholesterol levels should be checked, an ECG taken, a fasting blood sugar test done, perhaps even an exercise treadmill test ordered -- especially if there are indications of cardiovascular disease. (Know your numbers: Total cholesterol should be less than 5.2 mmol/L; LDL cholesterol should be les than 2.5 mmol/L. Blood pressure should be no more than 120/80.)
6. Stress tests.
Exercise stress tests may result in false positives for women, says Ascah. Women's fluctuating hormones may affect aspects of the stress test. "Women are more likely to see false positives, particularly if they are on hormones or are younger women." If a stress test throws up a false positive, Ascah recommends a further imaging stress test (using thallium, for instance) to confirm or rule out blockages.
Young women with diabetes have the same coronary risk as men -- even though theoretically women are protected by hormones. "It's not just overt diabetes, but also the pre-diabetic state that puts a woman at risk for heart disease," notes Ascah. "Her family physician should look for things that fit the so-called metabolic syndrome which is insulin resistant, high triglycerides and an apple-shaped body."
8. Risk factors.
Most Canadian women have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Women are their family's caregivers -- but you can't help anyone unless you help yourself first.
For women, chest pain may not be the first sign of heart trouble. Unusual tiredness, trouble sleeping, indigestion, problems breathing may signal heart trouble.
10. The five signs.
The five classic warning signs of a heart attack are chest pain or discomfort; pain in the arm, neck, jaw, or back; nausea, indigestion or vomiting; sweating, cool or clammy skin; difficulty breathing.
The beat of life
"It's a disease that creeps up on women," says Deborah Cox, the Toronto-born singer/actress who joins jazz megastar Diana Krall, and songster Chantal Kreviazuk on a terrific TV documentary on women's heart health. The Beat of Life includes real Canadian women who have struggled with heart disease and the families of a few women who died because they ignored the signs. Entertaining and informative, watch The Beat of Life which premiers on Global, Saturday at 7 p.m.
Get heart smart
Your heart beats about 70 times a minute, 100,000 times a day. Know your heart better, your risk of heart disease, the right diet and exercise, and more on prevention at: