Women have unique heart-health needs.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women over the age of 65. In this age group, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined, and women are four to six times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. Patricia Guerrero, MD, a board-certified cardiovascular disease specialist in Orlando, points out that while women have about the same risk of heart attack as men do at age 65, they are less likely to survive. This is largely due to a lack of awareness of risk factors and signs of heart disease.
"If you're 50 or older, it's time for a heart-to-heart with your doctor, to assess the status of your future cardiovascular risk and the measures you can take to reduce them,” says Dr. Guerrero.
The first order of business is to take a look at the lifestyle changes you can make. These simple steps can make a big difference.
If you smoke, stop. More than half of all heart attacks in women under the age of 50 are related to smoking, and women who quit smoking today will reduce their risk of a heart attack by a third in just two years.
Know your numbers. An annual physical can reveal some truly vital statistics. Your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels are all extremely important. "An easy blood test can give you insight and motivation to make necessary changes," says Dr. Guerrero. "Some illnesses can be improved by losing weight and modifying your diet, others can be addressed with medications. The important thing is to have a clear picture of your health so you can make a plan to avoid diabetes, heart disease and stroke."
Watch out for chest pain: While chest pain isn’t always caused by heart disease, better safe than sorry. If you’re having chest pain, go to the emergency room, especially if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on quickly.
Know your family history: If you have a close family member with heart disease, especially heart disease that developed before age 55 (in men) or 65 (in women), tell your doctor. "Every piece of information helps your doctor help you," says Dr. Guerrero.
About Dr. Guerrero
Patricia Guerrero, MD, FACC is a cardiologist with Florida Heart Group. She is director of the Women and Cardiovascular Disease program. Dr. Guerrero is board certified in cardiovascular disease, clinical cardiac electrophysiology, nuclear cardiology, and cardiovascular computed tomography. Her main clinical interests are the evaluation of patients with arrhythmias and prevention of cardiovascular disease. She is a national speaker For Awareness of Women and Heart Disease. To learn more or make an appointment, call (407) 894-4474.