sancassani_web.jpgHeart disease is the No. 1 killer of both women and men in the United States, yet only 50 percent of women realize that heart disease is a major threat to their health. Even though the risk of dying from heart disease has decreased over the past few years, it has decreased more for men than for women. This is because women do not have the same symptoms as men and tend to brush off their symptoms as something less serious like indigestion, the flu or getting older.

 Women, please don’t talk yourself out of paying attention to these important warning signs:

• Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
• Discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach
• Shortness of breath
• Increasing tiredness or lack of energy
• Upper body pain
• Nausea, lightheadedness or cold sweats

If you are experiencing any of these, consider them a possible clue to a serious problem and take action. It’s better to act on a “false alarm” than to never get another chance.

It is also important to be aware of the risk factors for heart disease.  These include:

• Age (55 years or older)
• A family history of heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Diabetes
• Obesity
• High LDL cholesterol
• Cigarette smoking

Almost half of Americans have at least one of these risk factors for heart disease. They also affect women differently than men. For example, women with diabetes are much more likely than men with diabetes to develop heart disease. As women age, they are more likely to develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This means that women need to be more vigilant about their heart health. 

While we can’t change our age or our family, many of these risk factors can be controlled or eliminated. So what can be done to lower the risk of heart disease?  The good news is there is a lot we can do! 

By quitting cigarette smoking, the risk for heart disease dramatically decreases.

Following a heart-healthy eating plan and exercising regularly can lead to weight loss. And losing weight not only helps us feel better, but also helps to control diabetes, cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, healthy eating for the heart means you should incorporate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high-fiber foods, and low-fat proteins (especially fish) into your diet. You should avoid fried foods and processed foods (which have a high amount of trans-fats and saturated fats), and also avoid salt. Make sure to drink more water, eliminate sugary drinks like sodas and limit your alcohol consumption.

Women should do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day (like walking up a sweat) on most, if not all, days of the week.  If you are trying to
lose weight, at least 60 minutes may be better.

Routine visits to your doctor can also help catch symptoms and risk factors early.

Since February is American Heart Month, it’s the perfect time for you to make sure you are following a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Rhea B. Sancassani is a medical
director for Jackson Medical Group
Cardiology. To learn about Jackson’s cardiology services, visit