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By Susan Pope, N.P.
Cardiac Center, Mayo Clinic Health System
It’s time we start seeing red.
Red — as in the color of heart disease awareness, just as pink is the color we all take notice of in regard to breast cancer.
Heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. (Yes, you read that right.) According to the American Heart Association, while one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease claims the lives of one in three. That’s about one death each minute.
So make sure you’re as committed to heart disease prevention as you should be to your yearly mammogram. That means: Maintain a healthy weight. Keep your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol at healthy levels. Stop smoking. Or better yet, don’t start. Stay physically and mentally active.
While we’re at it, here’s a quick quiz on heart disease and women. The more we know about our nation’s No. 1 killer of women, the better.
True or False: Heart disease only affects older women.
False: Heart disease affects women of all ages. The combination of birth control pills and smoking boosts heart disease risks by 20 percent in young women, the Heart Association says. Yes, our risk increases as we age. Overeating and leading a sedentary lifestyle are factors that lead to blocked arteries over time. But don’t let your age lull you into a false sense of security. I take care of women of all ages in the hospital. Heart disease is an equal opportunity threat.
True or False: Heart disease only affects women who don’t take care of themselves.
False: Unfortunately, all the salads and yoga in the world can’t eliminate your heart disease risk. (If only it were true!) Family history often plays a factor. You easily can be thin and have high cholesterol.
Knowing your numbers can help. The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. And be sure to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
True or False: I feel fine; therefore, I am fine.
False: According to the Heart Association, 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.
And when women do experience symptoms, those signs often are misinterpreted. Women’s symptoms often are vague: shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other women experience dizziness, lightheadedness, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
You may be thinking, “Ha! I feel back pain and fatigue all the time.” I get that. I hope you’re talking to your health care provider about all your concerns. But if something feels “off,” if something feels “not right,” don’t wait. Trust your gut. Listen to your heart of hearts. Seek medical attention.
Start seeing red.
Pope is a nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire who specializes in lipid management. She also sees patients weekly at Chippewa Valley Hospital in Durand.