Heart Disease and You
Meet Lisa Bartels, MD, of Beebe Family Practice - Lewes as she explains the connections between heart disease and women.
Q: Why should women be concerned about heart disease?
Dr. Bartels: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women. In fact, it kills more people than all cancers combined. Unfortunately, women can have heart disease and not have any symptoms. While lifestyle plays a part in developing disease, there are other factors, including heredity and conditions like diabetes, that affect risk.
Q: What advice would you give to women about their heart health?
Dr. Bartels: Even if you think you’re healthy, you should follow guidelines that recommend health screenings beginning at age 40, or earlier if there is heart disease in your family or you have other risk factors. Screenings that can signal your risk for heart disease include:
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar (glucose)
Finding these risk factors early allows you and your physician to take action to prevent a heart attack, and to give you an opportunity to live a longer and healthier life.
Q: High blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels are risk factors for heart disease. What else should women be aware of?
Dr. Bartels: Risk factors can be bad habits, existing medical conditions, or family history. However, many individuals can change these risk factors.
- Quit smoking. Using tobacco products damages the arteries in the heart, the lungs, and other body systems.
- Lose excess weight. Being overweight or obese affects your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. Eating unhealthy foods can accelerate plaque buildup in your arteries.
- Get moving. Healthy heart-protective chemicals are increased during exercise and unhealthy, excess sugar is used by muscles.
- Control your numbers if your have diabetes. Excess blood sugar causes damage to the blood vessels and other tissues and increases your risk for heart disease.
- Understand family history. Genetics can play a major role in how your body processes fats and sugars. It is important to know if you have close relatives who have developed heart disease.
Q: Is it fatigue…or heart attack?
For women, the most common symptom is pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest. It doesn’t have to be severe. But sometimes women do not have any pain. Other symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme tiredness
- Pain in the left arm
- Discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdomen
- Sweat, nausea, or vomiting
“Be your own advocate,” Dr. Bartels says. “Whenever you can, try to follow a healthy diet, stay active, and maintain a healthy weight. Try to manage stress in your life and maintain a work-life balance.”