Women and heart health: Keeping your ticker in top shape


By Wendy Rice

PREVIEW Columnist

February is Women’s Heart Disease Awareness Month. Stroke? Heart Attack? I know, not you. Well, step into this other circle while you read this. This is the greatest gift for your family and yourself.

The concern about women and heart disease is magnified because we deny or aren’t as aware as we need to be. To keep that organ the size of your fist working well, it needs some attention.

Heart disease causes more deaths than all cancers, respiratory, Alzheimer’s and accidents combined, and if the general public were to be apprised of HRV basics they could potentially evade a heart disease. Did you know strokes affect more women than men? Heart disease is not a “man’s” disease, but, unfortunately, research tends to favor men in the studies (25 percent of subjects are women), but symptoms can be very different from men. They are often ignored and traditional treatments can have radically different outcomes.

Only one in 10 women know that cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes) is the No. 1 killer of women. The reality is that, nationally, heart disease is the No. 1 cause and, for Colorado, it is the No. 2 cause of mortality for women. Stroke is No. 5.

Ten women over the age of 35 in Colorado die each day from heart disease or stroke. The good news, though, is Colorado’s mortality is “only” 72 percent of the national rate. The bugger is that it is still responsible for 24 percent of all female deaths compared to 3 percent for breast cancer. That is a loss of 3,734 women in Colorado — sister, mother, wife, friend and neighbor. In our own community, one of every four deaths is caused by heart attack or stroke. But more than 86 percent do survive.

Do I have your attention? So, how can we keep ignoring or denying a disease that impacts so many of us?

Diagnostics and treatment procedures can be very different between genders (stress tests, medications, angiography and surgical intervention). Bottom line, regardless of age, when a woman has a heart attack, she is 1.7 times more likely to die than a man. Why?

For starters, we tend to deny. A National Institutes of Health study found that 95 percent of women experiencing a heart attack had new or more pronounced symptoms an entire month before experiencing a full-blown heart attack. Only 53 percent called 911 when they thought they were having a heart attack. Crushing chest pain is not always present.

The study found that the most common symptoms stated were unusual fatigue (70 percent), sleep disturbance (48 percent) and shortness of breath (42 percent). I know, what woman hasn’t had these symptoms?

But, realize that the symptoms are often different for women — a woman’s heart attack is not necessarily accompanied by that crushing chest pain. Some symptoms could include neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort; shortness of breath; nausea; sweating; lightheadedness; or unusual fatigue. The symptoms tend to be more subtle because blockages can be not only in main arteries, but also in the smaller arteries supplying blood to the heart. This is why getting to the emergency room quickly is critical to prevent heart damage.

It is important to not be ignorant of this major issue and know you can do something to prevent heart disease regardless of heredity and age. Yes, family is important, but they would be devastated without you — take care of you first. Hispanic women have higher risk; cigarette smokers and being overweight are also significant risks. Women over 65 have more hypertension when compared to men, another risk factor.

The good news is, in addition to the general changes that work for both men and women, there are lifestyle changes that are more gender specific: for the 14 percent of women who smoke cigarettes in Colorado: stop, utilize techniques to deal with stress/depression, add at least 30 minutes daily of additional physical activity, improve food choices (check out the Mediterranean diet) and reverse metabolic syndrome (“apple shape” or abdominal fat along with elevated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and elevated triglycerides).

Ideal cardiovascular health includes: seeing your medical care provider/physician; managing stress; checking cholesterol (less than 200) and blood pressure (120/80 or less) regularly; having a fasting glucose of less than 100 mg/dl and leaner body (even 10 pounds). Reduce alcohol intake to one drink per day for women.

The following recipes are favorites and heart-healthy ones that I hope you will enjoy. Large avocados are recommended for the recipes. If you are making guacamole, try substituting half of the avocado with pureed, thawed frozen green peas.

Vegetarian avocado ceviche 

1 large ripe, fresh Hass avocado, cubed

1 cup cauliflower, diced

2 tomatoes, diced

1/3 cup red onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine ingredients and serve as appetizer or side dish.

Avocado corn salsa

3/4 cup frozen corn, thawed

1/2 cup grape tomatoes, quartered

1 avocado, diced

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

2 teaspoons lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt, kosher (optional)

Combine ingredients and serve with pita chips as appetizer.

Gardening and Landscaping Series continues

Winter is a great time to think, plan and learn about how to grow successfully at high altitude. Whether you are a novice gardener, new to Pagosa Country or want to plant a landscape this spring, these classes are for you.

All classes are located at the Extension building at the Archuleta County Fairgrounds, run from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cost $20 per class. Preregistration is required by calling 264-5931. Class topics and dates are as follows:

• March 2: “Tree and Shrub Selection, Planting and Maintenance,” taught by Roberta Tolan, Extension agent in Archuleta County.

• March 9: “The State of our Forests,” including insect pressures and trends, and fire mitigation, taught by Kent Grant, Colorado State Forest Service, and Matt Tuten, Pagosa Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service.

• March 14: “Vegetable Gardening in the Mountains,” taught by Parmenter.

CPR and first aid classes

CPR and first aid certification classes are now being offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.

We will also attempt to schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations.

Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.