Tag: Women And Heart Disease
There are some things in life that should clearly be ignored. The telemarketer who calls your house at all hours of the day and night, the endless commercials and newspaper ads claiming unbelievable weight loss results with minimal effort, and any health news story that promises a “miracle” or “cure.”
But, there is one thing in life that should never, ever be ignored, and that is your body. Your beautiful, precious, body that fuels your passions, hopes and dreams.
Being mindful of your body, paying attention to what your body is telling you, and loving your body can be helpful to protect you from heart disease (continue reading…)
If you are impressed by numbers, consider the average risk of breast cancer in American women, by age 80, is roughly 12.15 percent, [SEER data base] with rates of death from breast cancer much lower still (less than two percent of us will die of breast cancer) as compared to the huge majority who suffer and will die from heart disease, with death rates approaching 50 percent in the first year after a heart attack. About 267,000 women die each year from heart attacks, which kill six times as many women as breast cancer. Take a look at the information on the Women’s Heart Foundation website.
What we need to focus on, what we can individually do a lot about, is lowering our risks for heart disease and breast cancer by attending to the factors that are known to increase or lower risk (continue reading…)
Earlier this week, Barbra Streisand wrote an important reminder of the specific vulnerabilities that bear on the hearts of women and why we need to study this more closely. And as if in answer to this, an important review is about to reach print . This review looked asked the question: Why are women at risk for coronary heart disease? And the answers were very interesting. Depression, anxiety disorders, anger suppression and stress associated with relationships and family responsibilities contributed significantly to coronary heart disease in women but general anxiety, hostility and work-related stress had similar effects on men and women. Definitely disturbing, but what does this mean?
At the most basic level, why do the hearts of women strain when feelings get out of control? And what do these different factors have in common?
They are all about stuckness: People talk about depression as if it is about sadness when at a fundamental level, it is also as much about stuckness. Anxiety leads to “freezing” stuck responses too, and anger suppression is also about something not being able to make its way out. Even stress is about stuckness when it causes memory circuits to become activated so that only old habits of being are recreated. In a sense, these factors, when they strike, are like jamming the brakes. And the heart has to work that much harder to keep things moving and happening.
But these findings are also interesting because it is not general anxiety but anxiety disorders that pose a risk; it is not hostility but the suppression of anger that is also a risk; and not work-related stress but the stress of social relationships that pose the tremendous risk that burden a woman’s heart. It appears that a certain threshold has to be crossed before the heart starts to strain. While anxiety and anger may both be signals of impending heart strain in women, they have to reach proportions of “disorder” or be so high as to need to be suppressed for the risk to reveal itself. The bad news is that this happens at all. The good news is that we an do something about this.
This study would seem to suggest that general anxiety itself does not confer specific risk to coronary heart disease in women, but it may signal the beginning of a disorder. This would suggest that rather than waiting for the anxiety to be out of control, it would probably in the best interest of women to decrease the anxiety at that stage rather than wait for the full-blown disorder to occur. The same for anger. Early constructive expression may prevent the need for suppression, and if expectations about relationships and family responsibilities are managed earlier on, there may be less of a need for the heart to “feel” as though it needs to work harder. The point here is that it seems that much of this is preventable, and that setting up systems to prevent progression of anxiety depression and anger may actually also prevent heart disease. In fact, the study supported this in part because the review also showed that supportive social relationships and positive psychological factors may be associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
Thus, a review like this raises awareness that our brains and hearts are very connected and that our moods can be a real weight that prevents vital body organs from getting blood. And it also emphasizes that heart disease may be modifiable at a more basic level.
To start this journey toward modification of risk factors then, ask yourself first: Are you in the brake-jam phase of life where nothing seems to be moving fast enough? Because if you are, your heart is probably feeling this as well. The heart tells the stories of its well-being in the language of feelings. Listen to your heart when it tells you stories in the languages of depression and anxiety, for if you do, you may be able to change the language of its stories, and in so doing, have the very change of heart you desire — at a very literal level.
1.Low, C.A., R.C. Thurston, and K.A. Matthews, Psychosocial factors in the development of heart disease in women: current research and future directions. Psychosom Med, 2010. 72(9): p. 842-54.
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Women have broken through some of the hardest glass ceilings. We’ve had women explore the depths of outer space, a woman run for President of the United States, and we’ve had a woman serving as Speaker of the House, a position that is just two heartbeats away from the Presidency. Many consider politics as one of the last bastions of the boys club and thankfully — although slowly — women are finally making real inroads.
But there is another boys club that until recently many people either didn’t know about or talk about. It came as a big shock to me to discover that gender inequality still prevails in the medical sciences when it comes to research and treatment of some illnesses. I consider myself a well-informed person, but I only became aware of this fact when learning about women and heart disease, and I was stunned.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in our country, more than all cancers combined. Today, heart disease kills more women than men. When I started to think about this, it was not surprising. More women are taking on the stresses of juggling household demands, of being wife, mother and breadwinner. All of these modern day strains add to higher blood pressure, lack of physical activity, quick and unhealthy food choices, and weight gain — all major contributors to heart disease.
Despite the statistics, for years, most of the medical community has been treating our mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and friends inadequately because they based their treatment protocols on research outcomes done mostly on male patients. Cardiologists treating women certainly intended to provide their patients with quality care, but they could only depend on the research that was available and known to them.
In 1991, Dr. Bernadine Healy, the first woman director of the US National Institute of Health, studied the gender bias in the treatment of coronary heart disease. Termed the Yentl syndrome (a surprising coincidence), the study revealed that “once a woman showed that she was just like a man by having severe coronary artery disease, she was then treated as a man would be.” This would make sense if women’s hearts were biologically the same as men’s hearts — but they aren’t! And because of the biological differences, heart attacks present differently in women than they do in men. Instead of the classic attack — clutching a painful chest — women often have indigestion and fatigue. Plus, women are more likely than men to develop micro-vascular disease, which affects the heart’s smallest arteries.
We can no longer afford to naively assume that this is only a man’s disease — it’s now a woman’s epidemic. We may be almost 50 years behind in our research knowledge that informs diagnosis and treatment regimens for women with heart disease, but we are finally starting to close that gap. The Women’s Heart Center at Cedars Sinai Medical Institute is helping to lead the way in this effort as one of few institutions in the country on the cutting edge of this research. The Center is led by Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, a Harvard Medical School graduate. Dr. Merz has published over 180 scientific publications and more than 200 abstracts and has received numerous awards recognizing her as one of the field’s leading experts on preventive cardiology, women’s heart disease and mental stress. It was clear to me that I had to get involved when I heard that this brilliant woman was doing lifesaving work that would ultimately impact women all over the world — right in my own backyard!
But it’s all of our responsibilities to be advocates on this issue and to demand that gender inequality, especially when it comes to life and death issues, is not acceptable. This is a call to action and I hope you all will join me in supporting the new and vital work that is being done on women’s heart health. If you want to learn more, visit: CrowdRise.com/barbrastreisand