Behind the screens

Preventing heart disease in women

Provided by GHS

Heart disease has been considered a “man’s disease” for a long time when in fact it is the leading killer of both women and men. The difference (and the problem) lies with the fact that symptoms can vary greatly between men and women, and many people don’t realize it.

While pressure or chest discomfort are common, it is not always the most noticeable indicator for women experiencing heart attacks. Often, women feel fatigue, dizziness, and nausea among other symptoms unrelated to chest pain.

Enter: Women’s Heart Center of Greenville Health System. This office opened in early February to approach heart disease from a preventative stance. They focus on early-detection screening to identify, prevent, and increase awareness about cardiovascular disease in women.

As a (mostly) healthy young female adult, I decided to check out the process. Each screening lasts about an hour and costs $100, which is not covered by insurance. My appointment was a little bit longer but I was the second client *ever*.

Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Walton, a Bob Jones grad and long time heart doctor, explained the process before we went through it and answered any questions before she got started.

Step one: Dr. Walton pricked my finger to test my cholesterol levels. It took about five minutes so she did it before checking my blood pressure. Both were normal. 😉  I learned that my good cholesterol, called HDL, is actually supposed to be a higher number (over 60) and at 73, mine was actually a negative risk factor for heart disease.

Step two: The Electrocardiogram a.k.a EKG. It was pretty amazing how stickers and wires were able to produce graphs on the computer screen showing my (normal 🙌🏽 ) heart rhythm and vital signs.

Throwback to elementary school basics, Dr. Walton went over the importance of the five food groups and all that paperwork I filled out prior to my appointment about my eating habits (which is basically avocado toast as much as possible) and workout schedule. The point is that how we eat and exercise heavily influence the risk factors leading to heart disease like cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes and let’s be real–a lot of us need to work on both.

Pro tip (mostly because I didn’t know this): Coconut oil actually has more saturated fat than butter. Doctors suggest using avocado, olive, or walnut oil for cooking instead.

The American Heart Association recommends less than 1500 mg of sodium each day to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. That means cutting back on foods like pizza, breads, and tacos. 😫  Research from a study shows that an average American actually consumes over 3,400 mg of sodium daily but 97% do not know/underestimate their sodium intake. P.S. Most sodium in an American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods.

I wasn’t sure how answering questions about my sleep hygiene related to heart disease but that really solidifies how little education women (like me) generally receive about the related dangers. My answers about my sleeping pattern helped the doctor determine if I had a sleeping disorder like sleep apnea (I don’t). Why does it matter? Sleep apnea and similar disorders are major risks for cardiac respiratory disease and can lead to high blood pressure or a stroke. The doctor’s orders for me were to spend an hour before bedtime *not* looking at a screen to help relax my mind, improve the quality of my sleep, and reduce stress.

Recent studies indicated that women with high stress jobs (shoutout to literally every woman) have increased incidents of heart attacks. If you think about it, it totally makes sense: more stress equals less time for self-care activities like sleep and exercise. High stress hormones also have the ability to raise blood pressure and heart rate, potentially leading to cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is actually the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths every year. It takes the life of one woman approximately every second. The Women’s Heart Center hopes to detect and prevent heart disease in women all over the Upstate and also has future plans to work with women’s shelters for discounted screenings.

Okay ladies, now let’s get information (from the Greenville Health System Women’s Heart Center):

  • An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease.
  • Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
  • Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease.
  • Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.
  • Call (864) 455-6977 or go online to schedule a screening.

This post in partnership of Greenville Health System.



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