Ladies - Take this information to heart. - (1/10/2023)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

The recent death of Lisa Marie Presley, the only daughter of megastar Elvis Presley, was surprising for two reasons. First, she was only 54 years old. Moneyed, talented, and presumably in good health, her early age was not representative of what the general population thinks when a person dies of cardiac arrest. Second, she was female. Isn’t it the guys who suddenly keel over on the golf course or after a jog through the park, grabbing their chests and gasping for breath as the EMTs get there minutes too late?   

The myths about women with heart disease are aplenty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 6 in 10 women recognize that heart disease – not breast cancer or accidents – is their number one killer, despite increases in awareness over the last several decades. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women, taking the lives of 314,186 women in 2020 – or about 1 in every 5 adult female deaths.

Bulletin: Breast cancer is more on the minds of women than heart disease. According to surveys reported by Harvard University, even though heart disease kills more than 6 times as many women each year, women agonize over breast cancer more. Why the disconnect? Breast cancer impacts sexuality and body image, whereas heart disease does not. Also, heart disease typically emerges at an older age, so the danger may not seem all that real to younger women. Most 50-year-old women know women their age who have had breast cancer but none who have had heart disease.

The pharmacist has explained to patients that the symptoms women have during a heart attack can be quite different from that of men. Anyone can have the classic symptoms of a myocardial infarction – the medical term for a heart attack – such as cold sweats, crushing chest pains, and sudden lightheadedness. However, some symptoms are more common in women. These include pain in the abdomen, neck, jaw, throat, or back, as well as fatigue for hours or days before the attack. Shortness of breath and nausea can accompany. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, these symptoms may occur during rest, begin during physical activity, or be triggered by mental stress. Take note: men who experience the so-called “women’s symptoms” should not ignore them but should also seek medical attention ASAP. Sometimes heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until the person experiences signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, an arrhythmia, or stroke. Therefore women, as well as men, should have a “heart checkup” from a doctor at least annually.

The US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health states that to reduce one’s chances of getting heart disease, it is important to know one’s blood pressure and take prescribed medication if it is too high. Ask your doctor if you are fat and take it on the chin if she says you are overweight. Get evaluated for diabetes which is a risk factor for heart disease. Don’t freaking smoke! Find out what your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are. Make healthy food choices. Pizza is not a food group; potato chips are not vegetables. Also, lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress. Tennis, anyone?

We will never know why Lisa Marie died from cardiac arrest. Did she smoke, drink, party-and-play? Did the 2020 suicide of her only son Ben send her on a downward spiral? Was it hereditary considering both her father and her paternal grandmother, Gladys, died of heart disease at ages 42 and 46, respectively? Only you know what tugs on your heartstrings. So be mindful of your heart. Factor in the science, not just the psychology. Don’t just live a long life. Live a longer life.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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