If you're like most women, a healthy heart is something you take for
granted. And when you hear the words "heart attack," you're more likely to
think of your spouse than yourself.
But studies show that heart disease is the number 1 threat to a woman's
health -- causing nearly 1 in 3 deaths in women compared to 1 in 30 for breast
cancer. Yet heart experts say that far too many women don't take the risk of
heart disease seriously and are failing to take steps to prevent it.
"We need for women to start thinking about prevention now. They can't wait
until menopause to take care of their hearts," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, founder
of the Women's Heart Program at New York University Medical Center in New York
City and author of Women Are Not Small Men: Life-Saving Strategies for
Preventing and Healing Heart Disease.
The experts all agree: don't get scared; get busy. In February 2007, the
American Heart Association (AHA) published new guidelines on preventing heart
disease in women. They advise you to take steps for your heart health now to
prevent a heart attack or stroke in the future.
To get on the right track, follow these 12 steps for a heart-healthy
Healthy Heart Step 1: Get real about your risk. "The first roadblock
is that heart disease is thought to be a man's disease, and women do not
perceive themselves to be at risk," says Thriveni Sanagala, MD, assistant
professor of medicine in cardiology at Loyola University Chicago, Stritch
School of Medicine in Maywood, Illinois. "Awareness equals motivation to make
changes that lead to a healthy heart," she says.
Healthy Heart Step 2: Know what a heart attack feels like. What you
think is heartburn or nausea could actually be signs of a heart attack. While
the most common symptoms in both women and men are chest pain and discomfort,
women are more likely to experience other symptoms -- shortness of breath,
nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, and unexplained fatigue, Sangala
Healthy Heart Step 3: Quit smoking now. Smoking is a major risk
factor for heart disease. "Quit now," Goldberg says. "Find a technique that
works for you. Options can be anything from smoking support groups, nicotine
replacement and medication, to acupuncture and hypnosis." If one way doesn't
work, try another, and keep trying until you succeed. The bottom line for heart
disease prevention? Just do it.
Healthy Heart Step 4: Start your healthy-heart checkups at age 20.
"All women should be screened for heart disease starting at 20," saysGoldberg.
Ask your doctor to check your cholesterol and blood
pressure, and screen you for diabetes. "We have to work on risk factors
early, including high blood
cholesterol, lack of exercise, smoking, and diabetes," she says. If your
mom had a heart attack before age 60 or your dad had one before 45, your family
history ups your risk, as well.