Woman To Woman: Tips For A Healthy Heart
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Heart disease is the single leading cause of death for American women. Nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases than from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.
Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, a cardiologist at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Houston, focuses on research and treatment of women with heart disease. Kurrelmeyer is somewhat unique among practicing cardiologists, not only because her focus is on female heart health, but also because she is a woman. Less than 20 percent of cardiologists in the U.S. are women.
American Heart Month, recognized in February by the American Heart Association, gives her an opportunity to share with women on a broader scale what she shares with her patients year round.
By Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, cardiologist at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Houston.
The most important thing I tell my female patients is to stay to as physically fit as possible. Every woman should work exercise into her lifestyle. Find something you enjoy doing, and do it regularly and often.
In addition to exercising, follow the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fish and fresh vegetables, and low in processed carbohydrates.
Get your cholesterol checked, especially if there is a family history of heart disease or stroke. At age 20 women are seeing their OB/gynecologists who perform blood pressure checks, fasting lipid panels and fasting sugars. Even young women should pay attention to these numbers and be on alert if any are out of range. If these numbers are abnormal, they indicate that you are at risk for developing heart problems in the future. They are early warning signals, which if corrected and treated can help prevent the development of heart disease. Often these numbers can be corrected with lifestyle changes including improving your diet, exercising and losing weight. If these measures fail, they can be easily corrected with medication.
I like to do an initial, thorough heart check at age 40 if a woman has risk factors or a family history of heart disease, or at age 50 if there's no family history or risk factors. I don't recommend heart scans until age 55.
Women should also be aware of stroke. Stroke prevention is very similar to heart disease prevention. Blood thinners and cholesterol drugs called statins have been shown to help prevent heart attacks and the need for bypass and angioplasty. These same drugs are also proven to reduce the incidence of stroke.
Women are twice more likely to have a stroke than men. On the other hand, men have more heart attacks than women. We're not sure why, but in the end, it's likely all the same disease process and we treat them similarly. Stroke can have a devastating impact, not only on the survivor, but on everyone who cares for her. It's another dramatic reason to take care of yourself.
At the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center in Houston, we've launched several clinical trials designed to research new treatments and diagnostic tools in heart care for women. The data in one study suggests that if you can perform an exercise treadmill stress test, the likelihood of having a cardiac event in the next five years is really quite low.
The good news is that heart disease can be prevented. You have the tools at your disposal. Take advantage of them.
Methodist Hospital, Houston
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