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Cardiology: Women's Heart Care

Lee Health: Trusted Cardiologists Helping Women in Southwest Florida Maintain Healthy Hearts

Lee Health's heart specialists are here to help women in our community improve or maintain healthy hearts. Our cardiologists help you unpack the different lifestyle changes that can help you live your best heart healthy life.

How can women avoid heart problems?

You can avoid heart problems in the future by adopting a healthy lifestyle today. Here are some heart disease prevention tips to get you started.

Does smoking increase heart attacks in women?

Cigarette smoking greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as lung cancer and other serious diseases. There is simply no safe way to smoke. But the rewards of quitting are enormous. Just one year after you stop smoking, your heart disease risk will drop by more than half.

Once you've decided to quit:

  • Write down and frequently read a list of the reasons why you want to stop smoking. If you have unsuccessfully tried to stop smoking before, identify why these attempts did not work. Plan ways to avoid these problems again.
  • Prepare to cope with temporary withdrawal symptoms (drink lots of water, chew gum, or take frequent walks &mdash whatever works for you). Warn your friends that you may be restless, irritable, and cranky for awhile!
  • Ask your family and friends to help you stop smoking. Better yet, find a friend to stop smoking with you so you can offer each other support and encouragement.
  • Many women try all sorts of ways to stop smoking gradually, such as: switching to an ultra lights brand, gradually reducing the number of cigarettes smoked each day, smoking only half of each cigarette, smoking only when the craving becomes desperate, or forcing oneself to go to inconvenient places to smoke. Others go cold turkey.

Research studies show that less than 5 percent of people successfully stop smoking without outside help, so be prepared to reach out and take advantage of programs and treatments that can help you.

Take steps to keep yourself smoke-free forever, such as:

  • Throw out all reminders of smoking: ashtrays, matches, lighters, and cigarette packs at home and work.
  • Spend free time in smoke free environments, restaurants, and facilities. Drink lots of water and fruit juices.
  • Avoid beverages that you associate with smoking, such as coffee, beer and wine.
  • Keep you hands busy so you won't miss handling a cigarette.
  • Keep oral substitutes handy, such as carrots, hard candies, chewing gum, or apples.
  • Associate with nonsmokers whenever possible.
  • Learn relaxation techniques and/or meditation. Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Take a 30-minute walk each day, or other forms of exercise, to avoid major weight gain.
  • Eat healthy meals and get lots of rest.
  • Congratulate yourself each day you remain smoke free. Quitting smoking is hard work. Be proud of and celebrate your accomplishments!
  • Men and women are not created equally when it comes to heart attacks. Risk factors and atypical symptoms mean women should pay closer attention to their bodies.

Does exercise prevent heart problems in women?

Not getting regular physical activity increases your risk for heart disease, as well as other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight. And, for older women especially, physical inactivity increases the chances of developing osteoporosis, which in turn raises the risk of broken bones.

Here are eight easy steps to get more physically active:

  • Get a partner. Find a friend to join you in becoming more active. Exercising together will provide you both with support and encouragement to stick with exercising when you get tired or discouraged.
  • Take a walk every day. Start small with a short walk and gradually build up to at least 30 minutes or more each day. (Or take several 15-minute walks). Walking with a friend or spouse will make your walks even more enjoyable.
  • Move more often. When watching television, get up and walk around or march in place during commercials. Try hiding your remote get up each time you want to change the TV channel. At work hand deliver messages to colleagues instead of using the telephone or e-mail. If you're on the phone, get up and walk around. Dance when listening to music.
  • Take the stairs. Try taking the steps down (and several flights up) instead of the elevator.
  • Ditch the car. Park your car several blocks away from your destination. If you use public transportation, get off before your stop and walk the rest of the way.
  • Plan in advance. Include activities such as walking, golfing, hiking, bicycling, skating, or swimming in your vacation plans.
  • Hydrate. Be sure to drink lots of water before, during, and after you exercise.
  • Think outside the box. Try several kinds of exercise and find ones that you really enjoy.

Before you begin exercising, talk with your doctor to see if you should take any precautions.

Highlighting Women in Cardiology Serving Fort Myers and Cape Coral

What does a heart-healthy diet look like for women?

All the requirements and recommendations for nutrients and food components can make achieving a heart healthy diet seem like an impossible task. But take heart: making your diet healthier can be boiled down to just a few simple rules to keep in mind when shopping for food and making meal choices. Although changing the way you eat can be a big challenge, the stakes are high: eating an unhealthy Western-style diet increases a woman's risk of developing heart disease by 46 percent. 

The American Heart Association recommends following these dietary guidelines:

  • Fruits and vegetables: four to five servings daily
  • Grains, high fiber foods: six to eight servings daily
  • Fish, especially oily fish that are rich in omega-3: At least twice a week
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol: Less than 300 mg/day
    • Choose lean meats and vegetable alternatives (e.g., beans)
    • Select fat-free and low-fat dairy products
    • Minimizing intake of partially hydrogenated fats (fried food)
  • Minimize your intake of foods and beverages with added sugars: Sucrose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrups
  • Choose and prepare food with little or no salt: Less than six grams or less than 2,300 mg sodium a day
  • If you drink alcohol, so so in moderation: No more than one drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men

It is generally agreed that a healthy diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables, grains (particularly whole grains), fat-free and low-fat dairy products, fish, legumes (e.g., lentils, chickpeas, soybeans), poultry, and lean meats. This type of diet meets recommendations by the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The above guidelines recommend dietary steps to take for general heart health. If you have major risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you may need to do more.

(Servings are based on a 2000 calorie per day eating pattern)

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Does weight influence the chance of heart problems in women?

A healthy weight is important for a long, vigorous life. Yet overweight and obesity (extreme overweight) have reached epidemic levels in the United States. About 62 percent of all American women age 20 and older are overweight — about 33 percent of them are obese (extremely overweight). The more overweight a woman is, the higher her risk for heart disease. Overweight also increases the risks for stroke, congestive heart failure, gallbladder disease, arthritis, and breathing problems, as well as for breast, colon, and other cancers.

Do you need to lose weight to reduce your risk of heart disease? You can find out by taking a couple of simple steps.

Get Your BMI Number

BMI estimates your total body fat by calculating height and weight, and is helpful in determining if you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat.

  • BMI of 24.9 - 18.5 is considered normal weight
  • BMI of 25 - 29.9 is considered overweight
  • BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese

Those in the "overweight" or "obese" categories have a higher risk of heart disease — and the higher the BMI, the greater the risk.

Take out a tape measure

The BMI is a good, but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, many scientists believe that waist circumference and/or waist-to-hip ratio are better measures of overweight and obesity.

To measure your waist correctly, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hip bones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.

  • Women with a waist measurement greater than 35 inches are considered overweight and are at an increased risk of heart disease as well as the risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious health conditions.
  • Men are considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches and have the same risk factors as women

Once you have taken these simple steps, you can use the information to decide whether you need to take off pounds. Even a small weight loss (just five to ten percent of your current weight) will help to lower your risk of developing weight-related diseases.

Do health screenings prevent heart problems in women?

Screening is also an important way to prevent heart trouble. The earlier you start screening and treating it, the more disease you can prevent. That means getting your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and high blood glucose levels checked at the appropriate times to determine whether you need to take action.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measures how much force a person's blood is putting on the artery walls as the heart pumps. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when that person's heart has to work extra hard to pump blood throughout the body.

Regular blood pressure screenings start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more-frequent checks if your numbers aren't ideal or if you have other risk factors for heart disease. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury.

Cholesterol Screening

Cholesterol is the waxy fat carried through the bloodstream by lipoproteins. For every one percent reduction in total cholesterol, the risk of developing heart disease is reduced by two percent. Ideally, LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, should be less than 100, and HDL, or "good" cholesterol, should be more than 55.

Exercise, eating seafood, and smoking cessation will increase HDL levels. Soy products also may help; they reduce cholesterol by ten percent by decreasing its absorption into the bloodstream and stimulating thyroid hormone production. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 20.

Diabetes Screening

Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults without diabetes. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes.

Depending on your risk factors, such as being overweight or a family history of diabetes, your doctor may recommend first testing you for diabetes sometime between ages 30 and 45, and then retesting every three to five years.

It is important to know whether you have any of the following: high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood glucose (blood sugar), physical inactivity, smoking, or a family history of early heart disease. Being age 55 or older or having gone through menopause also increases risk. If you have a condition known as metabolic syndrome, your risk of heart disease is particularly high. If you aren't sure whether you have some of these risk factors, ask your doctor.

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