Heart disease or heart attacks are often associaed with a middle-aged or older man, probably overweight and stressed about his job. But the thing is, heart disease kills more American women each year than all cancers combined.
"Women don't realize it is also their No. 1 killer," said Dr. Anne Sutherland, a family practice physician at the Gresham-Troutdale Family Medical Center. In fact, a recent survey showed only one in five American women believe heart disease is their greatest health threat, the American Heart Association (AHA) said.
Many women don't recognize the symptoms of heart attack or other heart events because they are often different from the classic symptoms that men experience. "The No. 1 symptom for women is the same as men: chest pain or discomfort," Sutherland said.
But "women are more likely than men to have vague, atypical symptoms," Sutherland said.
Women can feel pain, discomfort or tightness in one or both arms, the back, neck or jaw. A heart event in women can show up as nausea or vomiting, stomach pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or incresed fatigue.
Risk of heart attack or problems in women increase with age. And that, along with family history and race, is a risk factor women can't control.
"You need to discuss these risk factors with your doctor," Sutherland said.
But there are many risk factors women can reduce or elmininate, including important factors such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, amount of exercise, and weight. The AHA estimates 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented.
"People don't realize how important lifestyle changes are," Sutherland said.
Healthy diet and regular physical exercise are universal rules for healthy heart. The AHA said healthy choices would mean that 330 fewer women would die of heart disease per day in the U.S.
"Eat those eight or nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day," she noted, while advising eating whole grains and limiting saturated fats and meat.
She recommends about 20 to 40 minutes of exercise four or five days per week.
Women are caretakers for everyone else, but sometimes neglect their own health. Sutherland recomments trying to minimize stress as much as possible and getting sufficient sleep.
Knowing your numbers — blood pressure, cholestrol, blood sugar and body mass index — will help if you need to make changes to get healthier.
"It is good to see your physician every other year," she said, so they can do an assessment of your heart risk factors and discuss it with you.
Have a heart-to-heart about your heart health.
Here's a heart-healthy recipe from the American Heart Association that's great for busy working women who love the Crock-Pot.
Crockpot Greek Chicken with Lemon Potato
1 medium onion sliced
1 lb potato, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp salt-free, dried Italian spice blend
3 lb whole chicken
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 halved, fresh lemons
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp coarsely chopped parsley
1 tbsp dried parsley
Using a high setting on your Crock-Pot reduces cooking time. However, if you know you'll be away from home for 10 to 12 hours, setting up the chicken in the cooker, set on low heat in the morning, is a great option.
Skin-free chicken is always an excellent choice for a meal, as it contains less fat and more protein than beef.
1) In the bottom of a large slow cooker, add onion slices, chopped potatoes, chicken broth and 1 teaspoon oregano. Stir to combine.
2) Using a knife or your fingers, remove chicken skin and fat from chicken and throw away. Place chicken on top of potatoes (breast-side down, if possible) and sprinkle oregano and garlic powder on top. Pour lemon juice into slow cooker or squeeze lemons and add to cooker.
3) Cook until potatoes are fork-tender and chicken is cooked, about 9 to 10 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Garnish with parsley and serve.
The American Heart Association has a special campaign called Go Red for Women to inspire and educate women about their heart health. The website offers a cornucopia of tips on heart health including how to get moving and eating better. Visit goredforwomen.org.