Fix Your Achy Breaky Heart

Ways to care for your heart in order to prevent, and treat, heart disease.

The key to heart disease prevention lies in knowing its causes, your risks for developing it, then doing all you can to reduce those risks. These same steps that reduce heart disease risk also demonstrate success in reversing it—often completely. Yet for many Americans, heart disease seems to take them by surprise.

Heart disease has traditionally been considered a disease affecting men. Most people also assume that cancer, not heart disease, is the number one killer of women in the United States. Both of these assumptions are false and can be dangerous if believed. The following statistics prove this:

Approximately eight million women in the US currently live with heart disease, including 10 percent of all women between the ages of 45 and 64.

43 percent of all women in the US die from heart disease (approximately 500,000 deaths each year).

Heart attacks kill six times more women in the US each year than breast cancer.

More women die from heart disease each year in the US than men.

Of all deaths caused by congestive heart failure, 62 percent occur among women.

Women who suffer a heart attack have lower survival rates compared to men (38 to 25 percent, respectively) and are more likely to suffer from another heart attack within six years (35 to 18 percent). Female heart attack survivors are also more than twice as likely to be disabled due to heart failure within six years compared to men (46 to 22 percent), and nearly twice as many women as men die after bypass surgery. Making matters worse, most of the research conducted on heart disease today is focused on men, with women comprising only 25 percent of all participants in medical studies related to heart disease.

What’s worse, women often do not experience symptoms of heart disease in the same way men do. Therefore, they are more likely to not recognize the symptoms, or ignore them altogether. For example, while chest pain is the most common symptom of a pending heart attack, women often do not experience chest pain before a heart attack strikes. Women are also less apt to experience other common warning signs of heart disease, such as pain in the left arm and shortness of breath.

Instead of experiencing the most common warning signs of heart disease, women are more likely to experience “atypical warning signs.” Such symptoms include pain in the back, neck, or jaw; nausea; vomiting; indigestion; weakness; unexplained fatigue; dizziness or lightheadedness; and sleep disturbances. Research has shown that 95 percent of women who suffered heart attacks first experienced one or more of these atypical symptoms rather than common warning signs. In the majority of cases, they did not recognize the symptoms for what they were. Had they done so, the majority of them might have avoided heart attacks by receiving medical attention in time.

Physicians, too, can fail to detect heart disease in women. One reason is because women aren’t as likely as men to have fatty plaque buildup in their arteries. This is especially true among younger women. In addition, women typically develop heart disease an average of 10 to 15 years later than men do. Researchers attribute this delay to two factors: menstruation, which helps to thin blood, making it easier for the heart to pump it; and the rich supply of female hormones that are produced prior to menopause, which have heart-protecting properties. Once menopause sets in, however, women who previously exhibited no signs of heart disease might quickly develop them, but because of their health history, their doctors might fail to screen for them.

Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons you have to fight heart disease. This may seem like a simple statement, but don’t make it too difficult. And don’t beat yourself up when you over indulge or miss your scheduled exercise. Remember you can’t change what you did yesterday but you can make changes for tomorrow. No individual choice will affect your lifestyle, rather it is the pattern of the choices you make that counts.

Notice, calorie-counting and eliminating specific foods is not part of the plan. By eating in moderation and selecting primarily healthy foods, your diet will be fine.

In addition to diet and lifestyle, there are other factors that ensure you are maintaining a healthy balance in your life. A typical person requires seven to eight hours of restful sleep each night. It is important to maintain adequate sleep. Healthy bodies need rest and getting inadequate sleep on a regular basis will cause negative health issues. Water is another important key to your wellness. Drinking water instead of soda will flush toxins from your system and reduce your daily calories. A typical twenty-ounce bottle of soda contains two and one half servings—and over 16 ½ teaspoons of sugar. Would you drink a glass of water with that much sugar?

The real issue with heart disease is that it sneaks up on us and takes us by surprise. You can reduce your risks by following some simple lifestyle changes.


As you make daily food choices, read nutrition labels and base your eating pattern on these recommendations:

Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.

Select fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat dairy products.

Cut back on consuming processed foods.

Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day.

Eat three balanced meals per day.

Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.

Select and purchase foods lower in salt/sodium.

If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if for women and two drinks per day if for men.

Keep an eye on your portion sizes.