A Cardiologist's Healthy Heart Tips for Women
Stephanie Moore, MD, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, says most women can lower their risk for heart failure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and other heart problems by following some simple advice.
By Jennifer J. Brown, PhD
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A healthy heart is within reach, says Stephanie Moore, MD, a cardiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care’s Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program in Boston.
Dr. Moore specializes in heart failure, heart transplantation, and ventricular support services, and she believes women should take an active role in making sure they stay heart healthy.
Here's her advice about how to keep your ticker in great shape - and what to do if there's an issue.
Everyday Health: Which preventive measures do you recommend to well women for keeping their heart healthy?
Stephanie Moore, MD:The best quote ever is “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This means that the first step for well women should be a visit to your doctor to determine your cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI [body mass index], and fasting glucose, and discuss your current activity level.
The doctor can also assess your family history to add that to your risk factor equation. Once your doctor also thinks you are well, you officially fall into the prevention category.
The best preventive measure is an annual check-up with the doctor and a monthly check-in with your self. On your “self check-in” you need to review your lifestyle habits:
- Each day, attempt to exercise 30 minutes or take 10,000 steps.
- Vegetables and fruits are the best way to get healthy vitamins and minerals into your body. Your body needs essential nutrients to ward off disease.
- Stay within your healthy BMI, and if you tend to gain weight in the middle increase the protein and decrease the carbohydrates.
- The salt shaker can hit the road; we Americans have plenty of salt in our diet and excess salt contributes to hypertension.
- Know the warning signs for heart attack and stroke and do not ignore them should they happen.
EH: What factors put a woman most at risk for heart failure?
Dr. Moore:The top risk factors for heart failure are coronary artery disease [CAD], diabetes, and hypertension. It is extremely important to prevent the silent risk factors diabetes and hypertension. Your fasting blood glucose should be less than 100 mg/Dl and blood pressure optimally less than 130/80 mmHG.
EH: Are these the same factors that put a woman at risk of stroke?
Dr. Moore:These are the very same major risk factors for stroke and any vascular disease. African-American women have an even higher risk of diabetes and hypertension than Caucasian women and when they have these risk factors they have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Race and ethnicity play a role in risk for heart attack and stroke. The benefits of a good diet and exercise are beyond the physical. Mentally, those who have healthy habits also have less depression and better sleep habits.
EH: What should a woman who experiences irregular heartbeat, which may be atrial fibrillation (afib), ask her healthcare provider?
Dr. Moore:There is nothing scarier than experiencing your first heart palpitation or irregular heart beat. Almost everyone experiences them at some point in their lives.
If you experience palpitations or irregular heartbeat with chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath you need to be seen that day. If these things happen in isolation and are fleeting, make an appointment with your doctor to have a check-up.
Small extra beats from the heart happen more frequently as we age and occur when we are stressed, lack sleep and drink excessive caffeinated beverages. It helps to keep a diary about when they happen and take it with you to your appointment. At your appointment, you might ask if you need any additional testing or labs. You want to ensure your thyroid function is normal. Include any over the counter medications you are taking and nutritional supplements you are taking in your medical history.
EH: When does a woman need to consult with a cardiologist in addition to a family physician?
Dr. Moore:The primary caregiver is the gatekeeper to your health care and all referrals start with this physician. It is fare at any appointment regarding your heart health, to ask your provider if you need a cardiologist to see you. It is really helpful when the primary care doctor does some preliminary testing and then refers you to the subspecialist.
If you have early family history of heart disease or symptoms that are difficult to control, you may be referred earlier to a cardiologist. It’s better to see a real second opinion subspecialist than to believe Dr Google. The internet is both helpful and harmful. Information often needs to be interpreted by your doctor in the context of your condition.
Video: Heart Health Tips from Cardiologist Dr. Lawrence Phillips
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