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Coronary Heart Disease: A Matter Of the Heart That Cannot Be Fixed With Red Roses

Posted Feb 14 2013 12:00am

Valentine’s Day. Perhaps you received one hundred red roses; perhaps you cried your eyes out into one hundred tissues.

Either way, around Valentine’s Day is a time when women think of matters of the heart. As a nurse I often find this “romantic” holiday, a PERFECT time to get women thinking about matters of the physical heart.

So, pull in your seat and let’s talk about the biggest heart breaker out there: Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). 

This disease breaks more female hearts than Casanova himself.

Coronary Heart Disease is the leading case of morality (i.e. death) in the western world. The WHO claimed, by the year 2020, CHD will be the greatest cause of death and disability in the world.  CHD occurs when plaque forms in the coronary arteries, reducing blood supply to the heart. At rest, the blood supply is adequate, however, when the heart requires more blood during exercise or emotional stress, the vessels (due to plaque obstruction) cannot deliver. This can causes chest discomfort and pain. If the plaque completely blocks the coronary arteries, it results in a heart attack.

Unlike many gender inequalities existing in our society, CHD does not discriminate. CHD development doesn’t depend on age, ethic group or sex. Yet in society, we treat CHD like it is a male-specific disease. This causes a few problems and misconceptions:

1.      Women do not see themselves as having the same risk as men for CHD
2.      Women often do not receive adequate education about CHD, studies have found many cannot even identify personal risk factors that contribute to CHD
3.      Cardiologist Northwest Florida finds women underestimate their risk of developing CHD, interestingly enough they over estimate their risk of breast cancer 4.      Health professionals also genderize CHD. This means that services for CHD are more tailored towards the male patient, as opposed to the female patient 5.      Health professionals under-diagnose and under-refer investigation and treatment for women with CHD 6.      Even once a woman has undergone a cardiac event (such as a heart attack, chest pain, etc.) she is less likely to receive the follow-up treatment and rehabilitation that her male counterparts receive.

A big part of reducing the incidence of CHD is reducing the risk factors. These apply EQUALLY to men and women!

Risk Factor #1: Being Overweight
Do you know that you are two times more likely to suffer from CHD if you are overweight? Being overweight also increase the likely hood of developing other risk factors that contribute to CHD such as: hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and high cholesterol. Body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference are two indicators of whether or not a person is overweight. So grab your measuring tape! Ladies, if your waist circumference is above 35 inches (40 inches for the men), you are at risk of developing CHD.

There are two main ways to tackle your weight:

Diet: Eat less processed foods, which are FULL of sugar, salt and preservatives. Eat less fatty fried foods and fatty meats. Eat more vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, fish and rice. Grill your food. If you have to fry, use heart friendly oil such as olive oil.

Physical activity: This will not only lower your weight, but also decrease your blood pressure, help you relax and release endorphins to keep you happy! Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing. Incorporating these activities into your routine makes you more likely to do them. So walk to work, cycle to the kids soccer game or dance to the supermarket (just kidding-but you get the idea!).

Risk Factor #2: Smoking
Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death and significantly contributes to your risk for heart disease. The good news is it is never too late to stop. The short term benefits are: in 8 hours of quitting smoking you have ½ the amount of nicotine in your body. After 48 hours your carbon monoxide levels are that of a non-smoker. Long term benefits are equally rewarding.  After one year you have halved the chance of developing CHD. After 5 years you have the same risk factor as a non-smoker.

Risk Factor #3: Alcohol
In moderation, alcohol can be good for your heart.  1-2 glasses a day for women and 2-3 glasses per day for men, is considered safe. However, excess and binge drinking of alcohol damages the heart, causing damage to cardiac muscle, arrthymias, stroke, obesity and hypertension.

Risk Factor #4: Stress
Stress is a mechanism our bodies use to keep us alert and motivated. Just like alcohol, it is extremely bad for our bodies in excess and when it is prolonged. It can cause hypertension, poor eating habits and increased alcohol consumption. Focus on identifying stressors in your life, and take measures to manage them (remember even “good stress” is still stress!).

Knowing what the risk factors are for CHD, is the first step towards in reducing your risk. And don’t forget ladies, CHD is not just a man’s disease.

Happy Valentine’s Day!
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