The Heart of a Woman: Cardiac Rehab Program Director gives talk

The sobering news is that heart disease is the number one killer of American women over the age of 25. The better news is that if women know the risk factors and modify their behavior to reduce those risks, there would be 80 percent fewer women with cardiovascular disease, or CVD.

Twenty women gathered in mid-February to learn from Barbara Dalrymple, RN, BS, Cardiac Rehab Program Director at the Bond Wellness Center, about CVD, their personal risk factors, and what to do about them.

Barbara began by showing a three-dimensional model of the heart, briefly explaining its parts and function.

“Your heart is as big as your fist. It weighs only one pound, yet each time it contracts—the measurement of your pulse—it has to eject enough blood to travel through 40,000 miles of the vascular circulatory system, which includes the capillaries, veins, and arteries. Your left ventricle is the power pump of the heart. The heart also has a great deal of muscle. It needs to be exercised every day of your life.”

Barbara recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily to maintain weight and heart health, but believes firmly that 60 minutes daily is optimal, and helps you to lose weight and lower blood cholesterol.

What is CVD?

CVD includes all heart and blood vessel diseases—diseases that affect the circulatory system. Coronary heart disease includes heart attack, when there is not enough blood oxygen supply to the heart muscle. The heart muscle dies and scars over; that particular area of the heart no longer functions, which compromises the overall function of the heart.

Cerebrovascular disease—stroke and TIA—occurs when the arteries start to close due to plaque and cholesterol. Hardening of the carotid artery, which feeds the brain, can lead to a stroke–the sudden death of brain cells due to inadequate blood flow. Stroke is the number 3 killer of women. “Heart disease for women typically occurs after menopause when its incidence rises 2 to 3 times. Because women are older when they experience a heart attack, 42 percent of women are more likely to die within a year of the attack, compared to 24 percent of men.”

Barbara said the rate of a second heart attack is also higher in women than in men—31 percent as compared to 23 percent. Despite medical advances and sophisticated technology, CVD claims the lives of 500,000 women every year, far exceeding the number of deaths in men. Yet, most women believe that breast cancer, which kills 1 in 30, is the more likely disease to which they’ll succumb.

Risk factors for CVD include high cholesterol, hypertension, age, family history, smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, stress, and depression.

“Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. Twenty-one percent of women—22.5 million—age 18 and older smoke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start; if you do smoke, quit.”

Know your numbers

Hypertension or high blood pressure (HBP) is a silent killer because we are rarely aware of it. Thirty-percent of women over the age of 20 have HBP.

“Learn your numbers. Systolic pressure, the higher number, is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, or contracts. Diastolic pressure is the pressure when the heart rests between beats.”

Unhealthy cholesterol levels are also a major risk factor; 54 percent of women age 20 and older have blood cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL or higher. Cholesterol levels are the measure in milligrams [mg] of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.

“Less than 200 mg/dL is desirable, and a lower risk; 200-239 mg/dL is borderline high and a higher risk; 240 mg/dL and above is high, and puts you at more than twice the risk than the desirable level. Medication changes the consistency of plaque and also slows the production of cholesterol.”

End of Part I. Part II will appear here on FitNotes on Friday, March 9, 2012

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