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  health > women > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Preventing heart disease in women: Know the signs and your risk factors

May 10, 1999
Web posted at: 11:54 AM EDT (1554 GMT)

  • Angina, or chest pain, which is often described as a tightness in the chest, sometimes radiating down the left arm or into the jaw. It is often mistaken for indigestion.
  • Chronic breathlessness or waking up at night and having difficulty catching one's breath
  • Chronic fatigue can be associated with heart disease; when it occurs it is usually overwhelming.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness that cannot be explained, or even blackouts, can occur
  • Edema, or swelling, particularly of the ankles and/or lower legs
  • Fluttering or rapid heartbeats
  • Gastric upset or nausea

  • In this story:

    Knowing your risk factors and how to control them

    The importance of diet in preventing heart disease


    (WebMD) -- Heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 500,000 women and 450,000 men annually. However, a 1995 Gallup survey revealed that 80 percent of women do not realize they have a much greater chance of dying from heart disease than from breast cancer. To increase the chance of early detection, experts say women should know their risk factors, be able to recognize symptoms and improve lifestyle habits.

    Dr. Leslie Hamilton Poor, cardiologist and co-director of cardiovascular education for the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA), says many women do not know the warning signs because heart-attack symptoms in women tend to differ from those in men. She also stresses that women should know their key risk factors, such as age and obesity, as well as follow a practical approach to such lifestyle habits as exercise. "Women can incorporate exercise into their daily routine, taking the stairs, doing housework. It doesn't have to be 30 minutes all at one time -- 10 minutes, three times a day, is fine. The key is having healthy habits be a normal part of our everyday lives," she says.

    Knowing your risk factors and how to control them

    Preventive measures can substantially lower your risk for heart disease. The AMWA recommends paying close attention to the following risk factors, especially those under your control:

    1. Tobacco use. Studies have shown that women who smoke tend to suffer their first heart attack an average of 19 years earlier than nonsmokers. Stopping smoking is the single most effective thing you can do to prevent heart disease.

    2. Cholesterol levels. Avoid foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and eat more foods high in fiber and complex carbohydrates.

    3. Diabetes. Diabetic women have twice the risk for a fatal heart attack than diabetic men. You can control diabetes with weight reduction, a strict diet and exercise.

    4. High blood pressure. Hypertension is especially critical for African-American women, who have double the risk of death from heart disease compared with other ethnic groups. You can lower high blood pressure through weight reduction, exercise, salt restriction and medications.

    5. Age and postmenopausal status. The risk of heart disease increases with age, with one-out-of-three women over the age of 65 showing signs of the disease. Discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy for reducing your risk.

    6. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Overweight women have an 80-percent increased risk of heart disease compared to lean women. Exercise increases HDL ("good cholesterol") and reduces LDL ("bad cholesterol"), helps control weight and promotes cardiovascular fitness.

    7. History of heart disease in a family member at an unusually young age. Consider your other risk factors and make the lifestyle changes that are possible.

    The importance of diet in preventing heart disease

    A healthy diet can help reduce several risk factors for heart disease: obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels. The following are some eating tips that can help you maintain a healthy heart:

  • Avoid foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol.
  • Eat plenty of whole grains, breads and cereals instead of white and refined grains.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables with meals and as snacks.
  • Eat legumes such as beans, peas and lentils in soups and salads.
  • Reduce salt and sugar intake.
  • Reduce alcoholic-beverage consumption.
  • Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

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