Let’s Get to the Heart of the Matter
When I think of the word “heart” I seldom think of my physical heart. I think, instead, of the color red or a heart-shaped valentine or feelings of love. I hate to admit it but until I reached the age of menopause I seldom thought of my physical heart. I took for granted its seemingly inexhaustible work ethic and never wondered if it was properly conditioned to continue its most important job of keeping me alive and well.
How often do you think about the health of your physical heart? If you are like most of us, you never question your heart’s physical state until it sends out a warning symptom or two. Sad but true in the absence of wake-up calls, many of us never really confront the critical issues of life.
Hopefully, your heart hasn’t sent out any warnings yet. If all is well, it is in good working order with no physical complaints and will remain so. But if you are a woman over the age of 50 it is important to know the statistics about women and heart disease.
Did you know that one out of every two women over the age of 50 will die from heart disease? Until recently most women were not aware of these staggering statistics.
Heart Disease – The Number One Killer
So why does heart disease become a major health risk for women after menopause? Why don’t women start developing heart disease earlier in life, as men do? And why is it that women often do not survive their first heart attack? The answers to these questions are vital to our survival.
Estrogen – The Great Heart Protector
Behind the scenes the wonderful hormone estrogen has been keeping the vessels leading to the heart dilated, protecting them from narrowing, hardening and generally becoming constricted. Estrogen has also helped stop the development of plaque while keeping your cholesterol levels and blood pressure within normal ranges.
Unfortunately, with the onset of menopause and the subsequent reduction in estrogen production, you begin to lose vital protection. If you don’t have healthy lifestyle habits in place, like sensible eating and regular exercise, your arteries may start to harden. Plaque can develop at an alarming rate, and your arteries may start to narrow. This paralyzing process will reduce the flow of oxygenated blood to your heart. And when your heart no longer has adequate blood supply it will make its problems known!
So, if estrogen is so important to our hearts and vessels, why don’t we just take some estrogen and be on our way? Because ongoing clinical trials do not support this hypothesis. The Women’s Health Initiative Study results, which were published in July 2002, showed an increase in heart attacks and strokes in women who were taking a combination of estrogen and progestin. Other studies done prior to the Women’s Health Initiative also support these findings.
The prevention of heart disease is always preferable to the treatment of heart disease. Strange as it may seem, simply recognizing a heart attack in women has become a vital concern in the medical community.
Women don’t enter emergency rooms with crushing pain radiating down their left arm. Many times our symptoms feel and look similar to anxiety. Shortness of breath, palpitations, nausea, dizziness, abdominal and chest pain are symptoms we complain about and until recently many emergency room doctors would mistake these symptoms for anxiety. Fortunately, diagnosis and treatment regimens are changing.
Prevention is the Key
Lifestyle choices will always be your best hedge against heart disease and other chronic illnesses. An honest assessment of your nutrition and exercise habits is a must. A diet low in saturated fat, high in fiber and rich in nutrients is a good place to start. Exercise for thirty minutes at least four times a week and always include aerobic and strength training in your routine.
Remember you do have some control over this disease and it’s never too late to get started. Our bodies are very resilient and respond quickly to our loving care and attention.