Easy, Life-Saving Tips for Women from a Cardiothoracic Surgeon

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women. One in three women lose their life to heart disease each year. According to Steward Medical Group Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Ann Connor, MD, 80% of cardiac disease deaths are preventable through education and lifestyle changes.

Dr. Connor, who practices at both Trumbull Regional Medical Center and Sharon Regional Medical Center, explains how becoming aware of symptoms and risks, as well as adopting a heart-healthy diet and exercise, can lead to prevention.

“Many women experience varied symptoms, with no chest pain present. Of course, females experience the classic symptom of a heart attack, exhibiting pain or discomfort in the chest, but it’s imperative to be educated on the understated symptoms as well,” she said.

According to Dr. Connor, some heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain that women exhibit include:

• Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
• Shortness of breath
• Pain in one or both arms
• Nausea or vomiting
• Breaking out in a cold sweat
• Lightheadedness
• Unusual fatigue

Paying attention to the subtle warnings is something Dr. Connor stresses to her female patients.

“It’s important to keep in mind that subtle warnings can occur over hours, days, or even weeks,” said Dr. Connor who noted that it’s not uncommon for a woman suffering from a heart attack to blame other conditions.

“This leads to a lack of immediate care, which can be life-threatening,” Dr. Connor said.  “Knowing risk factors leads to making smart health choices that may prevent a heart attack – and can help you be better prepared in the event that a heart attack occurs.”

Women's symptoms can occur when they are resting, or even asleep. Mental stress also may trigger heart attack symptoms in women, according to Dr. Connor.

She also stresses to her patients about the controllable risk factors. These include: smoking, tobacco, stress, unhealthy diet and weight, drinking too much alcohol, and being aware of cholesterol and blood pressure numbers.

“Managing these controllable risk factors is imperative. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising – these are all lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of heart disease,” Dr. Connor said.

So what does eating a healthy diet consist of?

“Fruits and vegetables, low-fat daily products lean meats, whole grains – these are all elements of a healthy diet that should be implemented,” Dr. Connor said.

With healthy eating comes a healthy weight level. A waist measurement greater than 35 inches is generally considered overweight according to Dr. Connor. “The circumference of your waist should be less than half your height. This is a good rule of thumb to follow, said Dr. Connor.”

A common mistake people make is thinking a significant weight loss is needed to be effective.

“This falls in with not being educated on the subject matter. A small weight loss of even 3 to 5 percent can be extremely beneficial. This can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels,” Dr. Connor said.

When it comes to exercise, you don’t need to go all out – small changes can make a significant impact.  Simply increasing activity throughout your day is easier than you may realize. For example, taking the stairs as opposed to the elevator or riding a bicycle can be effective.

“Getting aerobic activity to get your heart pumping is a great way to help prevent heart disease. Make sure to check with you doctor, however, before starting any regular exercise that you are not used to,” said Dr. Connor who recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity 4-5 days a week.

“This can include a brisk walk on most days. The 30 minutes can be broken down into intervals, too. People often think it all needs to be done at once, and that is completely false,” Dr. Connor said. “Again, it all comes back to being educated. Prevention is possible.”

Dr. Connor’s office is located at Trumbull Regional Medical Center, 1353 East Market St., Suite 301 in Warren and Sharon Regional Medical Center, 740 East State Street in Sharon, Pennsylvania. Anyone wishing for additional information or to schedule an appointment may call the Warren office at (330) 841-9020 or the Pennsylvania office at (724) 983-7200.

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