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February is National Heart Month, making it a great time for women to learn what they need to know to take care of their ticker.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States.
“Sometimes this tends to get overshadowed by the emphasis put on breast cancer,” says Brent Patterson, M.D., a cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Garland.
That’s not to say that women shouldn’t be concerned about breast cancer. However, according to the American Heart Association, each year 200,000 women die of a heart attack, five times as many who die from breast cancer.
In women, cardiovascular disease typically does not take hold until after menopause because of estrogen’s protective effects. Doctors once believed that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) would extend this protection after menopause, but in fact HRT is now linked to an increased risk of heart attack and death. Older women who have heart attacks are more likely than older men to die from them.
“We used to prescribe hormone replacement therapy routinely to try to prevent coronary disease in postmenopausal women, but now it’s not wise to take it unless the woman suffers from severe menopausal symptoms that cannot be treated in other ways,” Dr. Patterson says.
In women, heart disease usually presents itself more quietly than the “Hollywood heart attack,” where a man suddenly experiences tremendous chest pain, grabs his left arm, and keels over. Women may or may not experience chest pain, but might have fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, palpitations, back pain and indigestion.
No matter who you are, woman or man, take steps to prevent cardiovascular disease: Don’t smoke, get moderate exercise and eat a healthy diet.
“Along with controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, maintaining a healthy weight is also important, because diabetes is a significant risk factor for developing coronary artery disease,” Dr. Patterson says.
No matter what your risk factors are, Baylor can help you take care of your heart. For a referral to a cardiologist on the Baylor Garland medical staff, call 1-800-4BAYLOR or search our online database.
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