Posted: Monday, December 18, 2023

Prioritizing Women's Heart Health

Heart disease remains a primary cause of death among women in the United States. Women know prevention, self-care and health management are important to combat disease but tend prioritize the well-being of others and inadvertently neglect their own health. “It's important to understand the nuances of cardiovascular diseases that affect women, the unique risk factors they face and proactive measures to mitigate these risks. Heart health education, embracing lifestyle changes, and seeking routine medical care are essential components of a proactive approach,” Jennifer Spicer, family nurse practitioner with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Cardiology said.

Various heart conditions can impact heart disease in women. Heart attacks caused by plaque or clots that impede blood flow to the heart muscle and coronary artery disease from plaque buildup in the arteries are two major heart conditions affecting women. Heart failure, characterized by the heart's inability to pump adequate blood, and arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation, also are among the most common culprits. Risk factors specific to women include conventional concerns such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. However, women also face distinctive factors such as adverse pregnancy outcomes (like preterm delivery, gestational diabetes and hypertension), polycystic ovarian syndrome, menopausal status and hormone use, in addition to familial history.

Lifestyle modifications can play a pivotal role in mitigating risk. Avoiding or quitting smoking and alcohol intake (limiting to one drink a day for women) are fundamental steps. Adopting a heart-healthy diet also goes a long way toward preventing heart disease. Aim to eat foods rich in lean protein such as fish, chicken, or turkey that is baked, broiled or grilled, and include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit red meats, carbohydrates, salt and processed foods. “Exercising at least 30 minutes a day at least five times a week is beneficial, and that can include activities such as brisk walking, swimming or biking. Equally crucial is managing existing health conditions, especially high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, and taking medication as prescribed. Lastly, manage stress and mental health by having hobbies or activities you enjoy, and maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family. It is imperative that women carve out time for their own physical and mental health,” Spicer explained.

Recognizing potential symptoms also is vital. Women often experience different warning signs than men or even no symptoms at all. While typically men experience chest pain radiating to the arms, neck, jaw, or back, symptoms in women may include shortness of breath, palpitations, excessive fatigue, dizziness, or gastrointestinal issues like nausea and indigestion. Dismissing these symptoms could exacerbate potential heart issues, so if you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. “As women, between home, work and caring for others, we sometimes ignore these symptoms. Do not ignore these symptoms, as they could be warning signs of impending heart problems and should be evaluated by a health care provider without delay,” Spicer said.

Empowering women with the information and tools to prioritize their heart health is essential in battling cardiovascular diseases and reducing mortality rates. Prevention, through lifestyle adjustments and regular health care check-ups, can reduce the incidence of heart disease among women. “I believe that prevention and being proactive about one’s health are key,” Spicer added.

To make an appointment with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Cardiology, call 865-238-6161.

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