About 12 years ago, the American Heart Association (AHA), sponsor of February’s American Heart Month, was up against a surprising challenge. While nearly 500,000 American women died of cardiovascular disease that year, many women thought it was an older man’s disease. To help increase awareness and empower women to take charge of their heart health, the AHA launched the Go Red For Women campaign (www.goredforwomen.org).
Terrific progress has been made since then; but the fact remains that heart disease and stroke are the number-one killer of women, causing one in three women’s deaths each year and killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds. Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack, the symptoms of which can differ between the sexes. The good news? Research suggests that 80 percent of cardiac events may be prevented by education and lifestyle changes.
To learn more about this important issue, we chatted with cardiologist Dr. Simon Gorwara, president of Health Quest’s Heart Center in Poughkeepsie; he and his wife Geeta co-chaired the local October 2016 Go Red For Women luncheon.
Dr. Simon Gorwara, president of Health Quest’s Heart Center in Poughkeepsie, chaired the local American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women luncheon with his wife, Geeta, in October.
What do you wish more women knew about heart disease?
That it’s much more common than they realize. I wish they would be aware of the potential risk factors, signs, and symptoms, and pay as much attention to their own health as they do to [that of] the men around them.
Can heart disease be prevented?
The number-one risk factor — genetics/family history — is not preventable. But we can prevent such complications as heart attacks, stroke, and progression of plaque. Even if someone is predisposed to high cholesterol, we can help treat that and control it with diet, exercise, and medication.
What are the preventable risk factors for heart disease?
Obesity, lack of exercise, and smoking. Modifying those can really make a huge difference in improving one’s cardiovascular health.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack for women?
The typical scenario of clutching one’s chest, sweating, and shortness of breath is actually in the minority. You might instead have what feels like indigestion, acid reflux, and muscle pain in the chest area — atypical presentations like these are more common in women.
What should a woman do if she’s experiencing these symptoms?
Don’t panic, but don’t ignore them; get checked out by your doctor and make sure you are doing what you can to promote cardiovascular wellness.
When should she go to the hospital?
If you’re experiencing significant or severe chest pain associated with sweating and shortness of breath, and it’s spreading to your jaw and left arm, call 911 immediately. Don’t attempt to drive yourself.
How can women find out more about personal risk factors for this disease?
Take the Heart Health Evaluation on The Heart Center website (www.healthquest.org/heart-center).
What are your best suggestions for heart-healthy living?
In the Hudson Valley, there are so many options for healthy eating, dietitians, gyms, and exercise programs, including facilities for hiking, walking, and biking, that there’s no excuse not to take advantage of them to enjoy good cardiovascular health.
Sponsored by the Go Red campaign, BetterU, presented for Dutchess and Ulster counties in 2016 by Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, is a free, 12-week lifestyle change program that gives women the tools they need to lead a heart-healthy life. Twelve participants — chosen by application — work with nutritionists, trainers, and medical professionals to discover and implement simple choices in eating, exercise, and lifestyle.
Past participant Linda Dickens Monden Thomas (right) has high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease. Through BetterU, she learned that “health is a lifestyle. It’s not what I can’t have — it’s what I can modify.” The DanceXrossFitness Zumba instructor from Wappingers Falls says the program gave her the structure and discipline — and camaraderie — she needed to make changes. “Now I know to plan ahead, and that preparation is key,” says Thomas. “At Christmas I had the tools to go to places I loved and not overindulge.” A mentor for new participants, she says she still spends plenty of time at the gym: “I want to be around to be active in the lives of my three grandchildren.” The 2017 BetterU program will kick off in June.