women’s heart health

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A Family History of Heart Disease Doesn’t Have to Be Your Future

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Heart disease is a growing problem in America.  It is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and is even more of a problem for African Americans.  For many Americans the tendency towards heart disease runs in the family, and with their fast food addiction and sedentary lifestyles, the risk only increases.  Just because you may have a history of heart disease in your family though, doesn’t mean it’s a fate you have to suffer.

Jennifer Sedbrook, an OSF Cardiovascular Service Line Leader, says that “We can control all but two of the factors that affect heart disease; family history and age.”  OSF (Order of St. Francis) Healthcare is a nonprofit Catholic health care corporation that operates a medical group, hospital system, health plan, and other health care facilities in Illinois and Michigan.  According to OSF, There are other important factors which can also increase our risk though, and those include our BMI, or body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.  It’s important to be aware of your body and to know each of these numbers, so that if there is a change, you can alert your doctor.  Additionally, if you know your body mass index and, consequently, weight are not where they should be, you can be proactive.  By eating healthy and committing to a regular exercise routine, you can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease.  This, along with controlling the amount of stress in your life, will decrease your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Ann Ripsom, one woman in a family of 7 siblings, has lowered her own risk factors by quitting smoking, joining Weight Watchers, and getting regular check-ups with her doctor.  She decided to get involved with the OSF Women’s Heart Ambassadors after losing three of her brothers to heart disease.  Three of her other siblings have also suffered from major heart issues.  Despite such an intense family history of heart problems, Ann does not show signs of the disease and is working to help others decrease their factors too.  She says that the most important thing to do is to take control of your risk factors and do not ignore signs your body may be giving you. In addition, people need to know the various symptoms of a heart attack, which can include chest pain, jaw pain, pain in either arm, nausea, sweating, disorientation, and fatigue.

More than 616,000 people died of heart disease in 2008 alone.  That accounted for 25% of the deaths in America that year.  By becoming educated about your risk factors, these kinds of deaths can be prevented.  Knowing this information and taking steps toward prevention is the most important thing you can do.  So find out what your numbers are, start eating healthy, and above all, get active.  Don’t let your family’s history determine your future.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.




Women Are Enduring More and So Are Their Hearts

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

There was a time, when women stayed home to care for the children, did not vote, and did not make money of their own.  Luckily, we’ve since achieved a sense of equality as citizens.  Unfortunately, that equality has not come without a price.  As modern day women, we work just as hard as men, but on average, still earn less.  We parent just as much as men, and often as not, more because it is ingrained in us to try and be that Hallmark mom, but still must bear the burden of pregnancy.  We deal with the emotional, physical, and economic stresses just as much as men, but now, studies show that our hearts do not get as much help during these stressful times.

Researchers at Penn State conducted a study to find out how the heart and blood pressure of men and women differed when presented with mental stress.  All subjects were given the same problems and were monitored carefully to see how they dealt with the pressure.  The hearts of both men and women started working harder as the stress mounted, as was expected.  The amount of blood flow to the heart increased in men in order to make up for the extra work, but it did not increase in women.  This was a surprising discovery.  Professor Chester Ray, who led the study, believes this “shows women may be more susceptible to experiencing a cardiac event with mental stress compared to men.”  With heart attacks being much more common in women than in men, their results are helping doctors understand why.  Hopefully, these findings will encourage more women to seek a doctor’s advice when they feel stress that seems to be affecting their heart.

What does this boil down to? It boils down to the fact that women need to begin to realize that they need to demand the help that they deserve and need. We simply cannot be everything to everyone all of the time. We need to set priorities, and stick to them. My new memoir, “Something to Prove” chronicles my life as a woman who balances career, home and family; hopefully serving as a roadmap for other adventurous women.  Different times in our lives call for different priorities. Being a harried mother may be just as stressful as meeting an office deadline or being the sole caretaker of infirm parents or performing difficult surgery.  We are not superwomen, though if you look at what a majority of women accomplish on a day-to-day basis, we might as well be; even without the additional pressure that put on ourselves trying to “do it all”. All women who have children have one job, if she works outside the home, then she has two jobs, and if you are also cook, cleaner, and overall the “go-to” person, you might just have three jobs. And this is considered normal… It’s no wonder women are stressed.   

Although psychological studies have shown that women feel they are “expected to possess many diverse traits and behaviors, such as being both competitive and nurturing, compliant and assertive, and to appear in control without any signs of vulnerability,” they need to realize these expectations contradict themselves and are simply not realistic.  If your lifestyle has caused you to deal with inordinate amounts of stress, your mental, emotional, and physical health will suffer if you don’t make a change.  A study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that women who had more satisfying jobs and home lives were less likely to develop as much mental stress, even though they had the same amount of responsibilities as others.  I love ballroom dancing and I twirl around the dance floor each week with a cha-cha or tango in order to de-stress and have a creative outlet.  In other words, find something that you love doing and it won’t take quite as much of a toll on your health.  With this in mind, you can still be a modern day woman and take on numerous responsibilities, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  As a physician, author, wife, and mother, I know that finding this balance can be difficult, but your heart is worth it.

— Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.