Ways to love your heart and keeping it healthy
August is Women’s month in South Africa and we are celebrating all you wonderful women. Women are no longer the less visible gender. But saying that, do we often place focus on ourselves and our wellbeing.
Therefore, I’ve decided that during the month of August a few of my blog posts will focus on women’s health issues. Love your heart places focus on cardiovascular disease.
When my mother-in-law got a severe heart attack on 16 April this year; she wasn’t aware of the fact that she had a heart condition. In fact she had hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes and was on medication to keep this under control but she had no idea of the damage to her heart. The symptoms she experienced were tiredness and slight panic attacks. But she paid no attention to it. Not knowing that these were actually the symptoms of a heart disease.
Luckily she survived the heart attack and had a stent inserted to widen one of her arteries. These days she is more aware of her health. The fact is, she has cardiovascular disease and it can’t be cured. Managing this disease with medication and by making a few lifestyle changes is the only option. At her age she need to make these changes to reduce the risk of further attacks.
Women worry of getting breast or cervical cancer. Cardiovascular disease is never at the top of our list of diseases that we might get. Cardiovascular disease is the second leading cause of death in South Africa, second only to HIV/Aids. Keeping that in mind; this disease however kills more women than men in this country. So thinking that cardiovascular disease is only a men’s disease is a myth.
Research indicates that cardiovascular disease is attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. Following an unhealthy diet which leads to developing high blood pressure.
So what is cardiovascular disease or heart disease as we know it? According to Dr Liesl Zuhkle, a Paediatric Cardiologist and President of the South African Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is a series of heart diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, ischemic strokes and hemorrhagic strokes that are a result of heart failure.
Cardiovascular disease develops when plaque build-ups in the walls of the arteries, heart infections and inflammation of the coronary artery walls. This narrows the arteries and makes it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms it can stop the blood flow, causing a heart attack or stroke.
Angina heart is chest pains or pressure in the chest that occur due to inadequate oxygen supply to the heart muscle. Although, Angina is not a disease it is a symptom that there is a heart problem. Angina pain can be in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.
So why are women more susceptible to developing this disease?
We all know that living a healthy lifestyle, not smoking, eating healthy, exercising and living a stressful life can prevent you from getting cardiovascular disease. Easier said than done, right. It is not as simple as that and if it was I’m sure that all of us would’ve lived healthier, stress free lives and be living much longer.
The reality is, as women we often need to juggle life. We forget to take care of ourselves as we are more concerned about taking care of our families. So amongst all the mayhem of multitasking work and family life, we develop unhealthy eating habits by grabbing a bite to eat on the go. We often don’t have time to include exercise in our daily routine, smoking acts as a coping mechanism as we are sometimes under enormous stress.
According to the Heart Foundation of South Africa, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases when women go through menopause. As women age and develop menopause your body changes; your oestrogen levels drop causing the heart and blood vessels to become stiff and less elastic. Due to this the blood pressure starts to rise and coupled with unhealthy eating habits, “bad” cholesterol develops. Menopause is also the cause of becoming insulin resistant. Insulin is the hormone that carries glucose from your bloodstream into the cells. It is then used for energy. During this period more women develop diabetes.
What are the warning signs?
When you experience these signs, please do not ignore it. Act on it and make an appointment with your doctor. Request that they do an ECG for a clear diagnosis.
- Chest pain
- Pressure in the chest – sometimes you may think it is indigestion but if it doesn’t go away have yourself checked out
- Pain in the jaw and arm
- Shortness of breath
- Back pain that does not go away
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness and sweating
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling of the feet
What can be done to prevent or lower the risk of getting this disease?
- Eat healthy
- Maintain a healthy weight
- If you have a family history of this disease, have yourself examined by your doctor
- Know your numbers – know what your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and BMI numbers are and become aware of it and what it stands for.
Cardiovascular disease can be treated with medication and if need be with coronary surgery to widen or bypass clogged arteries. The key is to lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Please just make sure that your medical scheme covers any of these procedures. I hope this post was informative and that you will take it all in and stay healthy.