Health: Are you listening to your heart?

One in three women will die of heart disease; it’s a startling statistic, but the good news is that the power to change these numbers for the better is often right in our hands

VANCOUVER —  “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Listen to your heart. It’s a message that’s been delivered by poets, song writers and authors for centuries. 

Today, it’s doctors who are delivering this important message. Not only should we listen to our hearts, but we should make caring for them a priority as well.  

What is heart disease?
Heart (cardiovascular) disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.

This is advice that is especially critical for women.

“Heart disease is often portrayed in the media as a man’s disease,” said Jane Luu, MD, a cardiologist at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. “But it’s actually a disease has a very powerful impact on women.”

Did you know?

Jane Luu, MD, cardiologist, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center
Jane Luu, MD, cardiologist, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center

Heart disease is the number one killer of women, outpacing breast cancer, stroke, COPD and lung cancer combined.

Heart disease is a women’s disease. It kills 300,000 women each year; approximately one woman every minute.

Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.

While these statistics are startling, there’s some good news to share: 80% of all heart disease is preventable.

That’s right, 80 percent.

Awareness is key

According to Dr. Luu, knowledge is a woman’s most powerful defense against heart disease.steel bite pro reviews Whether young or old, it’s important for women of all ages to understand their risk factors, and how to make lifestyle changes that can drastically reduce their risk for developing heart disease. 

Risk factors for men and women Risk factors specific to women
SmokingPre-term delivery of a child (less than 37 weeks)
High cholesterolWeight gain from pregnancy not lost within a year after delivery
High blood pressure High blood pressure and/or diabetes developed during pregnancy
Diabetes Breast cancer treatments (radiation, chemotherapy)
Obesity Autoimmune diseases
Physical inactivity Depression

To address these risk factors and lower your chances of getting heart disease, it’s important to do the following:

• Know your blood pressure by having it checked regularly. Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease. 

• Talk to your doctor about getting tested for diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes raises your risk of heart disease.

• Quit smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. “Women who smoke have a 25% higher chance of developing heart disease, compared to men,” explained Dr. Luu. “Smoking is the biggest modifiable risk factor. If you smoke and you stop today, your risk of heart disease drops by seven-fold.”

• Discuss checking your blood cholesterol and triglycerides with your doctor.

• Make healthy food choices. Being overweight or obese raises your risk of heart disease. Dr. Luu recommends a Mediterranean diet that is low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat and high in produce, nuts and other healthful foods.

• Limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks a day. 

• Find healthy ways to cope with stress. 

• Get enough sleep and exercise daily. Dr. Luu recommends seven hours of sleep each night, and 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise once a week, plus strength training twice per week.

PeaceHealth Southwest cardiologist Jane Luu, MD, has critical advice to women and others about heart health. Photo courtesy of PeaceHealth Southwest
PeaceHealth Southwest cardiologist Jane Luu, MD, has critical advice to women and others about heart health. Photo courtesy of PeaceHealth Southwest

Dr. Luu’s most important piece of advice? Listen to your heart, pay attention to your body and talk to your doctor before the risk factors become issues.

“Establish yourself with a provider who you can sit down with and have those important discussions with about diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol and your activity levels,” she said. “It’s about sitting down with your provider, early on, so that they can help with these risk factors before they become problems.”

Want to learn more?

Heart quiz:

Symptoms of heart attack: