Every 5 minutes, four women in America die of heart disease, according to the NIH. That adds up to 500,000 women each year.
If that fact surprised you, here are some others you might not know but should be aware of:
- Women are more likely than men to die from a heart attack, and to die after a procedure such as a stent or a balloon angioplasty.
- Women are more likely than men to have another heart attack within five years.
- Women don’t get the same screening, preventive treatment, or life-saving medications or procedures in the ER when they are admitted for heart trouble
- 64% of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. In 2/3 of women who suffer a heart attack the first sign of heart disease is the heart attack
When we feel good it’s hard to imagine that we might be felled by something like a silent heart attack. We think because we exercise some, eat pretty good, and can still get up the stairs without passing out that we are not likely to have heart disease.
The above statistics mean more of us have now, or will have at some point, a heart issue — even if it’s “only” hypertension or high blood pressure — than believe they might, or those numbers would not be so high.
Newsflash: Heart disease does not happen overnight. It takes years to develop and symptoms may be nonexistent.
There is good news. According to Mimi Guarneri, founder of the Scripps Foundation for Integrative Medicine, “Heart disease is the most easily preventable of all lifestyle diseases.”
Prevention includes lifestyle choices, good testing, and knowing two very important numbers.
First, find out your waist-to-height ratio. All docs, including those who practice prescription pad medicine, now agree that this is a reliable, simple predictor of HD and future heart problems. Higher values of WHtR indicate higher risk of obesity-related cardiovascular diseases.
The ideal number for your waist will be half that of your height. If it’s more than that, your risk goes up.
Next, know your blood pressure over a normal 24-hour period. Most likely it won’t be the same throughout the day.
Blood pressure is important because high blood pressure damages not only the heart but also the kidneys, arteries and vision, making you more prone to have a stroke or heart attack. Why you want to measure it over a 24-hour period, once every 4 – 6 hours, is because life stresses, food, sleep or lack of it, and other lifestyle factors can affect it and in those fluctuating numbers is information you can use. Are you pretty stable throughout the day? If not, what precipitated the rise or fall? Adjust accordingly.
“But you didn’t mention cholesterol, Greg.” Correct and here’s why. Study after study has proven that there is no correlation between cholesterol levels and heart disease. According to Dr. Mark Hyman and others “The majority of heart attack sufferers have normal cholesterol readings.”
There is one component of your lipid profile — that’s the test they take when they measure cholesterol — that is important: triglycerides.
A high number indicates a high risk of heart disease and stroke.
An even more telling number is the ratio of your HDL cholesterol number to your level of triglycerides. It is a better predictor of heart disease than your LDL number or total cholesterol alone.
If your triglycerides are 100 mg/dl and your HDL is 50, then you have a ratio of 2. Two or lower is good. Anything above that is a warning sign. Higher than 5 is a critical call to action.
There is one factor most medical agencies and docs won’t talk to you about that I believe is critical to heart health and survival after a heart attack.
In his empowering book, Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, Dr. Dean Ornish documents studies that conclude intimacy (emotional support and connection) is at least as important as physical factors (cholesterol levels, blood pressure, etc.) for the prevention of and recovery from heart disease.
According to Dr. Christine Northrup, “Though most of us wait until mid-life to take steps to prevent or treat it, heart disease actually begins in childhood—the minute we learn to start shutting down our hearts to avoid feeling disappointment and loss.”
An open heart, close friends or family ties, a community we share ourselves with knowing we are safe; each of these plays a big role in the care of the heart — the one muscle we cannot live without. A lack of these things can lead to depression, which puts one a greater risk again of heart disease.
Dr. Stephen Sinatra wrote in his newsletter recently, “The known connection between heart disease and depression is so strong, that a history of major depression is considered a powerful independent predictor of future cardiac events. Negative emotional states such as depression set off a cascade of hormones that have profound impacts on the body.”
Before I let you go, let me ask you: are you aware of your risk factors? If you know you have heart disease do you feel trapped, as if it’s going to be a lifetime of meds and worry? Hit reply and let me know. You don’t have to live like that, and I understand how confusing it can be to know which advice to follow and how to fit it in to your busy life.
Any life lost unnecessarily is too many; 500,000 is heartbreaking. Take your heart health to heart and don’t suffer in silence. Reach out, get help, it’s a heart healthy practice.