February is National Heart Health Awareness month

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Heart attacks a real risk for women

As women, we have been trained to watch for certain foreboding signs — like a lump in the breast or vaginal bleeding after menopause — but we often miss something that’s less talked about but more threatening: the signs of a heart attack.

During the month of February, TMH is offering free blood pressure checks at the TMH Medical Clinic. The clinic is located at 785 Russell Street and is open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information you can call 970-826-2400.

“Heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in every three deaths where breast cancer causes one in every 31 deaths. There’s a myth that women don’t have to worry about heart attacks like men do. That’s simply not true,” said Dr. Jon Hamilton, DO, a Family Medicine Physician with TMH Medical Clinic.

When women do have heart attacks they are more likely to die. That’s partly due to not acting fast enough when symptoms set in. Heart attack symptoms are often vague in women and are different from the heavy feeling on the chest that men typically feel.

Know the symptoms: Flu-like feeling versus chest pain

“Everyone knows the classic symptom of a heart attack — chest pain. Yet two-thirds of myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks, in women occur without any history of chest pains. That’s why they often get missed early on,” Hamilton said.

The main symptom of a heart attack in women is flu-like symptoms, fatigue or sometimes an upper gastric discomfort that can feel like acid reflux or dyspepsia.

“Women often say they have extreme fatigue — they feel like they are not able to climb the stairs like they could a month ago. Or, they experience seemingly unrelated symptoms, like pain in their jaw or upper back, or feel like they have an upset stomach,” Hamilton stated.

Since these symptoms are vague and can be easily confused with other ailments, women often ignore them or don’t act quickly and go to the emergency room when they should. Unfortunately, the results of waiting can be fatal.

“Women under the age of 50 who have heart attacks are twice as likely as men to have a fatal heart attack,” he added.

How to prevent a heart attack

While there is a strong genetic link to heart disease, there are steps you can take to prevent a heart attack.

“The number one way to prevent heart disease is to quit smoking. Women who smoke are at a 19 times higher risk over those who don’t. The next is maintaining an ideal body weight,” Hamilton said.

He recommends exercising 30 minutes a day “more days a week than not” and eating a healthy diet low in saturated fats, high in fiber such as grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean meats, like fish and chicken.

“Women with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease. Diabetics are known to have ‘silent heart attacks,’ where there are no symptoms at all. That’s why getting regular cardiovascular check-ups is so important,” Hamilton stated.

The National Institute of Health advises women 45 and older to have their blood pressure and cholesterol checked and a screening for diabetes every few years. If you haven’t had an annual exam lately, call the TMH Clinic at 970-826-2400 for an appointment or get a free blood pressure check the month of February in honor of Heart Health Awareness Month.

“Almost every one of my female patients who have had a heart attack have been extremely surprised that it happened to them, and amazed by how few symptoms they actually felt,” Hamilton concluded.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.

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