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Knowledge Is Power; Use It to Take Care of Your Heart

Knowledge Is Power; Use It to Take Care of Your Heart

Published: 2/2/2018

CINCINNATI—The old adage "Knowledge is Power” is true as residents in the Tristate and beyond combat cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death of American women and men, say cardiovascular health experts at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine.

"A lot can be done to prevent heart disease,” explains Anisiia Doytchinova, MD, an assistant professor at UC College of Medicine Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease and UC Health cardiologist. "Get checked out. Knowledge is power. Knowing your cholesterol, sugar and blood pressure levels is the first step to improving cardiovascular health.”

February is American Heart Month and an ideal time to call attention to cardiovascular disease, which includes ailments such as heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia, atherosclerosis and related problems, and accounts for one in three deaths in the United States. It strikes both men and women, but has long been under diagnosed among women receiving less attention than other diseases affecting women, says Doytchinova.

The American Heart Association (AHA) will work to raise awareness of heart disease among women with sponsorship of the  National Wear Red Day on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. Locally, UC Health and the UC College of Medicine will also support that effort with activities that day and throughout the month of February.

"Cardiovascular disease is responsible for approximately one women’s death every minute,” says Doytchinova. "It is the leading killer in women and is responsible for more deaths than all cancers combined.”

New blood pressure guidelines recently endorsed by the AHA and the American College of Cardiology now consider normal blood as anything less than 120/80, while high blood pressure is defined as greater than 130/80, says Doytchinova.

She offers a few tips for improving heart health and preventing cardiovascular disease:
  • Exercise regularly. It is recommended people engage in moderate activity for 30 minutes at least five days a week.
  • Manage your diet and weight. Optimal body mass index is less than 25 kg/m.2. Avoid fried foods along with items high in fat such as red meat, full-fat dairy products and items high in sugar such as packaged snacks, cookies and sweetened sodas. Opt for water, unsweetened tea, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Heathier sources also include olive oil, avocado and nuts.
  • Develop good sleeping habits. Poor sleep is associated with high blood pressure and a substantial risk factor for heart disease. Seven to nine hours of sleep is considered optimal for good health.
  • Accept long-term medications if needed to prevent heart disease. Even small lifestyle changes are good.
Doytchinova says symptoms of heart disease, specifically in heart attack, may differ in women and men.

"The most common symptom of heart attack in a woman is still chest discomfort,” says Doytchinova. "This does not necessarily have to be severe enough to be described as frank pain and while it can be felt as ‘pressure’, it can also be sharp or burning. However, women are more likely than men to present with atypical symptoms such as back or arm discomfort only, sweating, profound fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea or indigestion.”

"Women in particular are also subject to heart disease during pregnancy,” says Doytchinova. "Heart attacks are uncommon during pregnancy but can sometimes occur due to a tear in the heart vessel, called spontaneous coronary dissection. Pregnancy also rarely causes weakening of the heart muscle and congestive heart failure.”

Richard Becker, MD, director of the UC Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute, adds that a type of heart attack much more common in women than in men known as plaque erosion occurs because of physical changes in the blood vessels are quite distinct in women.

"It’s unclear why the difference; the easiest thing to believe is that it’s hormonally-driven, but I think it goes a lot deeper and there is still much we don’t understand, including the impact of societal stress on the heart,” says Becker, also a UC Health cardiologist and Mabel Stonehill Endowed Professor in the UC College of Medicine.

Environmental stress, career stress and family-related stress may contribute to plaque erosion and heart attacks, says Becker. 

"When discussing women’s cardiovascular health, it is also important to mention atrial fibrillation,” says Doytchinova. "This is a condition characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk for stroke and particularly, women with atrial fibrillation are at higher risk for stroke then men with similar risk factors.

"While high blood pressure and particularly atrial fibrillation also usually present at older ages, younger patients in their 30s and 40s can sometimes develop these conditions,” says Doytchinova. "It is good to remember that it is a myth that younger or physically fit patients cannot develop heart disease.”

UC College of Medicine, UC Medical Center, West Chester Hospital and Daniel Drake Center will have various activities throughout February to promote heart health including:
  • UC Health employees will gather at locations on Friday, Feb. 2, at UC Medical Center (noon in front hospital lobby); West Chester Hospital (9:30 a.m. in breezeway between hospital and UC Health Physicians Office South) and Daniel Drake Center (noon at stairs from front lobby to AR floor) for a Go Red Picture. All employees are asked to wear red this day to show their support for women’s heart health as part of National Wear Red Day.
  • Heart Mini sign up tables at the College of Medicine will also be available at the upcoming HLVI Seminar Series on Monday, Feb. 5 in front of MSB 3351 beginning at 11:30 a.m. Faculty and staff can also register at the Tuesday, Feb. 13, Cardiovascular Grand Rounds in MSB 2351 beginning at 11:30 a.m. Another opportunity for sign up is set for the Internal Medicine Grand Rounds in MSB 5051 set for Wednesday, Feb. 14 beginning at 11:30 a.m.
  • Knitted red hats will be given to newborns born in the month of February at UC Medical Center. Also included are the following handouts:  Family Medical Tree, Well-Woman Visit, Life Simple 7 for Kids, and Understanding Foot Nutrition Labels.
  • Women’s Heart Bags will be provided to all UCMC female patients in 6-South and CVICU units. Bags include AHA Educational Material, HLVI Marketing Promo Material, and Red Dress Pins.

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Jordan Bonomo on Fox19 News.

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