A Woman’s Greatest Risk

Branyas_Nancy_Suit colBy Dr. Nancy Branyas, “Dr. Go Red”, St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana

When people think about risks, dangerous activities often come to mind—skydiving, mountain climbing and whitewater rafting to name a few. But frequently, taking a big risk can be NOT doing something.

“Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, affecting 43 million women each year.”

Not paying attention to your heart health is a major risk, especially for women.

In my role as “Dr. Go Red,” working with women at St.Vincent Heart Center of Indiana and the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement, I share the message that heart disease is the greatest risk to a woman’s health.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, affecting 43 million women each year, and it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.

go-red-for-women-logoFortunately, there are lots of ways to mitigate this risk.

Making heart-healthy lifestyle decisions is the best way a woman can protect herself from heart disease. This means adhering to an exercise schedule of 30-60 minutes a day, eating a healthy diet low in saturated fats and replete with fruits and vegetables.  Smoking cessation is crucial. Tobacco alone can increase a woman’s risk for heart disease by as much as 400 percent.

Paying close attention to the signs of heart disease is another way women can significantly reduce their risk. The signs of heart disease in women are often different from those signs in men. While chest pain or chest heaviness and tightness is the classic presentation in both sexes, women can have other symptoms less common in men that include left shoulder or interscapular back pain, jaw pain, fatigue, sweating, nausea and worsening shortness of breath.

“African-American women are more predisposed to developing heart disease than Caucasian women.”

Getting regular health screenings is also critical to minimizing a woman’s risk for heart disease. These screenings include regular blood pressure tests, cholesterol level tests and diabetes screenings. Knowing your numbers is the first step to heart disease prevention. If your numbers aren’t optimal, your doctor will recommend intervention.

It’s important to remember that some women are at greater risk than others for developing heart disease. Ethnicity plays a role. African-American women are more predisposed to developing heart disease than Caucasian women. Family history and age are other important factors to consider. Diabetic women are at five times the risk of developing heart disease. But don’t forget that heart disease can strike any woman at any age.

In order to greatly diminish the chances of having heart disease, women must maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle, schedule regular health screenings and know the warnings signs. Just remember – if you take care of your heart, it will take care of you.

Risk can make life exciting. It can give you a fantastic rush. But when it comes to heart disease, taking a risk simply isn’t worth it.

Learn more about risk at the 18th annual Spirit & Place Festival November 1-10.

Dr. Nancy Branyas is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist with St.Vincent Heart Center of Indiana. She initiated the Women’s Cardiac Risk Clinic, designed to identify those women who have, or who are at risk for heart disease. As “Dr. Go Red,” she is the face of the American Heart Association’s Indianapolis Go Red For Women movement.

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