Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. It’s a fact that needs to be repeated because there are still too many women ignoring the topic.
Heart disease is deadlier for women than all forms of cancer combined. So why aren’t enough women paying attention to their hearts? Because many are the primary care givers for the family, supervising doctors’ appointments for the kids, spouse and elderly parents, particularly in the Hispanic culture that is widespread in South Florida.
Research shows that women often times do not recognize the signs of a heart attack and are not sure when to call 9-1-1. Organizations, such as WomenHeart, The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease , are at the forefront of educating women about the risk of ignoring their heart health, including recognizing symptoms which differ from those that men typically experience.
(Watch now: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Alvaro Gomez, M.D., cardiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, about the impact of heart disease on women. Video by Steve Pipho.)
Women could certainly experience the classic symptom of chest pain, but they should also be on the lookout for less obvious signs, such as light-headedness, excessive sweating, nausea, indigestion, and palpitations — sometimes in addition to shortness of breath and back pain.
“Fortunately, heart disease is largely preventable by taking simple measures,” says Dr. Gomez. “But women need to be aware of what measures can prevent it.”
The risk factors for women are much the same as for men when it comes to heart disease. They include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, excessive alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight through healthy eating and regular exercise is also vital. South Florida’s Hispanic culture creates tough challenges for women.
“When it comes to Hispanic women, we have extra things we need to worry about,” says Dr. Gomez. “Probably, the most important one is the cultural aspect, which acts in two different ways. One is our diet. Our Hispanic foods are delicious, but they are very rich in carbohydrates.”
White rice, Cuban bread, red meat, fried plantains are often staples of a dinner plate in the Cuban-American household. These typical meals often lack sufficient fruits, vegetables, wholes grains and lean protein sources (poultry, fish and nuts) — the primary ingredients required for a healthy diet. Limiting red meat and sugary foods and beverages is also important for your heart health, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The AHA also states that women should aim for a 150 minutes of physical activity each week to help prevent heart disease, and an hour daily for a weight-loss program, depending on individual needs. Walking, cycling, dancing or swimming — activities that use larger muscles at low resistance — are good aerobic exercises, the AHA says.
Gomez emphasizes that all women, and particularly those in Hispanic households, should stop ignoring their own health.
“She has to take care of everyone in the household and she often comes in last,” Gomez said. “Obviously, that leads to problems because it can eventually lead to delayed treatment or delayed searches for help, in terms of looking for a doctor when you have risk factors or looking for a physician when you have symptoms, and these symptoms could be an introduction to a heart attack.”
A woman’s health should never reach the point when a heart attack is imminent, he says.
“Many times when patients have heart attacks, they can have symptoms for days before the heart attack actually occurs,” Dr. Gomez says. “And if you don’t act on those symptoms quickly, it may be too late by the time you ask for help.”