If You’re Passionate About Health, Don’t Ignore the No. 1 Cause of Death for Women

June 21, 2017 11:08 am

This month, the Women Lead HERe e-newsletter is focused on the topic of health and wellness. As professionals working in the healthcare industry, we can access high-quality information regarding health and wellness, but we may tire of the subject, and, in fact, we may ignore it altogether. 

I am passionate about heart health. My daughter, Molly, died at age 23, 15 months after a heart transplant when her own heart was damaged by a virus, which resulted in viral cardiomyopathy. Initially, we did not recognize the signs and symptoms of heart failure in an otherwise vivacious and healthy 21-year-old woman. 

If you’re curious about heart health, I recommend reading an excellent article from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

The facts it presents are compelling:

  • One in four women dies of heart disease.
  • Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both women and men.

    We can control many of the risk factors associated with coronary heart disease (CHD). Your eyes may be glazing over because you believe you already know them, but take a moment to review the ones you can control and the ones you can’t:

Risk factors you can control:                                   Risk factors you cannot control:

*Smoking                                                                 *Your age

*High cholesterol                                                       *Menopause

*High triglycerides                                                     *Family history

*High blood pressure                                                 *Preeclampsia


*Metabolic syndrome

*Lack of physical activity

*Unhealthy diet



*Sleep apnea

In addition, emerging risk factors are being researched, which include:

 *The effect of inflammation on the body, resulting in a rapid increase in plaque (may be caused by conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis)

 *Low bone density

 *Low vitamin B6

 *Low folate intake

 *Migraine headaches

Extensive research related to calcium supplements (with or without vitamin D included) continues to influence whether your primary care physician or cardiologist has recommended you take a daily calcium supplement for your bone health, as well as for your heart.

I am a participant in the COSMOS research project, which is being conducted in partnership with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in partnership with Harvard Medical School. They are studying the effects of cocoa supplements and multivitamin outcomes. As a participant, I take the supplement tablets (or they might be the placebo) daily for four years. The researchers believe cocoa extracts may improve heart health, as well as boost memory in the aged. It goes without saying that women have always known the benefits of chocolate!

Do you know the signs and symptoms of heart disease? They may differ between women and men; some women who have CHD will have no signs or symptoms, known as silent CHD. Silent CHD may not be diagnosed until a woman is experiencing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, or an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

The standard procedures used to diagnose heart disease include:

*EKG                                                                            *Chest x-ray

*Stress test                                                                   *Blood tests

*Echocardiography                                                         *Coronary angiography

*Cardiac catheterization

You can control your risk factors: stop smoking, lose weight, follow a healthy diet, and be physically active by committing to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Walking is an excellent healthy exercise. In addition, be sure you know your family’s history of heart disease.

How will you know if you are having a heart attack?  You may experience one or more of the following signs:

*Chest pain (might be pressure, squeezing, a sense of fullness, or pain in the center or left side of the chest. The pain can be mild or strong, and it can come and go.

*Discomfort in the upper body, in one or both arms, in your back, your neck, your jaw, or stomach.

*Shortness of breath; may be associated with or before the chest pain.

*Nausea, feeling lightheaded or faint, and/or breaking out in a cold sweat.

*Fatigue; lack of normal energy.

The most important information is this: If you believe you are having a heart attack, call 911 at once. Do not attempt to drive yourself or ask someone else to drive you to the hospital. The EMTs who respond to the call can begin lifesaving treatment immediately, which will greatly improve your chances of recovery. Early treatment can prevent or limit damage to your heart muscle.

Lastly, enjoy this video produced by the American Heart Association. It’s funny, with a most important message. 

Mary Lee DeCoster is a revenue cycle consultant from Phoenix.


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