"I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again"
-- Helen Reddy
At the close of 2005 some 500,000 American women died from some form of heart disease. And for the last 20 years, heart disease has claimed the lives of more women than men. Yet it remain a little know fact, why? Mostly because perpetuated myths about women and heart disease still stand in the way of prompt, effective diagnosis and treatment. Sad but true.
According to Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., and Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., the way to change the perception that heart disease is a "man's problem" is by empowering women to take charge of their own heart health. The two women teamed up to recently to write Strong Women, Strong Heartsa groundbreaking guide that every woman should read.
Backed by cutting edge research from Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, many of the strategies put forth are based on scientific research. The book combines diet and exercise guidelines, stress reduction techniques, and more practical advice in a workable, effective life plan. Its proven strategies help women assess their risk for heart disease, choose foods wisely, lose weight sensibly, and nurture their emotional health.
Here is a recent conversation with Miriam Nelson…
1. What's the biggest misconception about heart disease with respect to women?
The biggest misconception is that heart disease is mainly a man's problem. Not true. Almost 500,000 women die from heart disease each year. Another 8 million women are living with heart disease.
2. More women than men die from heart disease, a statistic that seems to be a well-kept secret. Why? And why has that fact stayed under wraps for so long?
One reason is that historically, women have been under-represented in studies. Also, a lot of the spotlight has been on breast cancer rather than heart disease, at least in part because breast cancer tends to strike women at a younger age. But 10 times as many women die of heart disease as of breast cancer. It's not that breast cancer isn't a devastating disease. But you can't deny the numbers. Still, knowledge often lags behind perception. Shifting the knowledge in the culture takes a while.
For whatever reason, the media wasn't picking up on heart disease prevalence in women, so the facts have stayed largely under wraps. Also, women's diagnoses are often delayed, so the presence of heart disease is not always clear.
"I believe all women can be what I call 'agents of change' for other women."
3. How are women's symptoms different from a man's?
When a man is having a heart attack/it's typically as though a Mack truck is running over his chest. Women's symptoms are often much more subtle - mild indigestion-like feelings, sometimes some jaw pain, fatigue, feeling winded. Also, men often have no symptoms before the heart attack; it just strikes.
Women often feel lousy up to a month before - fatigued, indigestion, etc. That's a silver lining. If a woman doesn't feel great, she can get to the doctor, get intervention, and avoid the heart attack.
4. What are the emotional factors that elevate the risk of heart disease, particularly for women?
While type A personality appears to be a risk factor for men, it's women who repress anger, etc., too much that appear to be at increased risk. That is, women who bottle up their negative emotions too much might be at increased risk.
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