Melissa is a seemingly healthy 35-year-old mother of two who walked daily. Alice, 29, laughed with her doctor about how she was too young for her chest pains to be anything serious. And Joe Schmoe is in his late 70s, a drug user and smoker, whose daily breakfast consists of eggs and bacon cooked by his wife of 47 years, Martha. Who do you think had a heart attack? The answer is all three.
Heart disease, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t a condition confined to elderly, chain-smoking males. Seemingly healthy women who wear pink ribbons are also surprisingly in the demographic. Heart attacks are not just happening in nursing homes. Heart attacks are happening to the women you see at your PTA meetings, favorite lunch spots, and playgroups.
In fact, heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States: The American Heart Association predicts that 365,000 women will have heart attacks this year, and, for those of us under 50, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely as men’s to be fatal. For chest cancer, a far more publicized illness, the latest figures from the American Cancer Society show that approximately 255,000 women will be diagnosed in that same twelve-month period. Would you be surprised to hear that cardiovascular disease kills more women over 25 than all cancers combined?
Of course, the good news is there are specific actions that you can take to protect yourself from heart disease. Tennis and eating grilled vegetables aren’t just good for keeping your figure slim and trim! Your love of sports and healthy foods can help keep you around longer for your children, spouse, and friends by preventing heart disease. However, sometimes we need a little help – and that’s OK! As well as a healthy diet and exercise, there are drugs, known as statins, that can help lower cholesterol and keep you heart-healthy.
Is your job “stressful”? Your heart knows …
It is very important to keep track of your cholesterol levels, no matter how old – or young – you are. But experts say that half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol levels. Sometimes the high risk factor is caused by inherited heart problem or high-risk activities like smoking. Stress can also be a factor – according to a recent article in The Daily Mail, women with stressful jobs are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as women who feel their jobs are manageable. Um, sound familiar? Luckily, treating patients, even when their cholesterol levels are normal, can cut the risk of heart attack or stroke in half.
A landmark study in 2008 found that rosuvastatin reduced cardiovascular episodes in women by 46 percent and in men by 42 percent. The group who took part in the research did not have heart disease but showed other signs of risk.
Experts emphasize that when prescribing statins, doctors must take into account attributes like the patient’s age, gender, race and family medical history rather than the cost of medication. Too often, experts say, the goal of saving money seems to be more important than helping at-risk patients.
Ladies, it’s never too early to be proactive about our health – and to talk to our doctors about medications that can prevent illness and even death. Too often, even the medical community doesn’t put enough emphasis on heart health for women, especially young women. But paying attention to our hearts means making sure we’ll be around for all those special moments in life … for a long, long time.