Cardiologist shares heart healthy information for women

Published 12:56 pm Monday, February 9, 2009

Think cancer is the leading cause of death among American women? Think again.

Cardiovascular disease is actually the number one killer of women across the country, and many women don’t even know they are at risk.

With that in mind, LV Stabler Memorial Hospital welcomed women to a special event on Friday, the American Heart Association’s National “Wear Red Day.”

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Dr. Pervaiz Malik, a cardiologist with River Region Associates, shared a PowerPoint presentation on “Women and Cardiovascular Disease” with nearly fifty ladies.

“More than half of deaths each year in the U.S. is due to cardiovascular disease,” Malik said.

“While the prevalence of heart disease is higher in men than women in the young, the risk levels out when women reach menopause, and as they age, there are actually more women than men with heart disease.”

According to Malik, there is also a higher percentage of women who die within the first year after a heart attack, versus male heart attack victims who pass away in the same period.

“The prevalence for a stroke or a second heart attack is also much higher for women,” Malik said.

The warning signs for a woman having a heart attack tend to differ somewhat from men.

“While chest pain is a common symptom for men, other symptoms, such as back and jaw pain, nausea and shortness of breath are more common in women,” Malik said.

While quick medical care is urgent in the aftermath of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest, one of the best things a woman can do for her health is “to prevent it happening in the first place,” Malik said.

Making lifestyle changes can mean the difference between good health, and disability and death, the cardiologist emphasized.

” If you smoke, quit. Change your diet by avoiding saturated fats; add fish oil, which has proven benefits. Get regular aerobic exercise and plenty of it – about 30 minutes a day four to five days a week. That will raise your good cholesterol levels. If these measures don’t work, taking appropriate medications as needed can make a big difference,” Malik said.

While a single glass of red wine has hear-healthy benefits, any drinking to excess can only harm the heart, the doctor said.

In addition to high alcohol consumption and smoking, what are key risk factors for cardiovascular disease for women?

“Established heart disease, high blood pressure(whether or not it’s treated), low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), obesity, sedentary lifestyles, diabetes and a family history of heart disease, either a first degree female relative who suffered a heart attack before 65 or a male relative who had a heart attack before age 55,” Malik explained.

Chronic kidney disease is also a risk factor.

Malik encouraged his audience to “be aware” of heart disease risk factors, stroke and heart attack symptoms and ways to combat heart disease.

Any woman with a strong family history of heart disease is encouraged to get a screening by her 40s.

“A check of cholesterol levels and a stress test are a good idea. It’s also important for diabetics to be checked, because they often don’t experience the chest pain others may have as a precursor to an attack,” Malik said.

With Americans growing heavier every year, awareness of the health problems obesity can bring is particularly important, he said.

The cardiologist encouraged any woman suspecting heart problems to be proactive and talk to her doctor about having tests and screenings done.

Suggested internet resources for further information include The Heart Truth, Cleveland Clinic, St. Jude Medical Patient Education and the Red Dress Campaign (AHA).

Following a Q & A with Dr. Malik, door prizes were given away and the attendees, many wearing red in honor of the day, enjoyed red punch and red-themed refreshments.