MINNEAPOLIS - Women all over Minnesota and the nation celebrated National Wear Red Day to shine a spotlight on heart disease, the leading cause of death for women in the United States.
The statistic hits close to my own heart after my father died from a sudden heart attack last year at age 68. With a long family history of heart disease on both sides of my family, I began worrying what I could do change my genetic risks beyond diet and exercise.
Fortunately, Dr. Retu Saxena, a cardiologist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s Minneapolis Heart Institute, counsels women on risk factors for heart disease and also personally understands the genetic risks.
“My parents both have heart disease, my Mom died from heart disease, I am fortunate in that I know those symptoms really well, I get to practice them every day, I’m cognizant, I know what to watch for, I run up and down the stairs here at Abbott, I watch my diet very closely. I try to eat good fats, fish, nuts, avocado, olive oil. I try to incorporate those things into my diet as I too don’t want to end up like my parents and grandparents,” said Dr. Saxena.
She first tells women to “know their numbers”, by consulting a doctor to learn the results of blood pressure tests, a full cholesterol panel, blood sugar checks, height and weight and BMI. Looking at these results, Dr. Saxena says it’s possible to fight genetic fate.
“They just published a trial that shows lifestyle modification can help abate our genetic risk, and it’s the stuff you hear about day in and day out, exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week,” she said.
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year – more than all cancers combined. However, 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action.
Dr. Saxena also says a heart scan, known as an EBCT, which you can request from a cardiologist, helps understand your risk for heart disease by searching for calcium in the heart.
Last, she sees stress as a major factor standing in the way between women and heart health.
“The biggest story I get is I thought I had heartburn or thought it was my stomach because I was too busy to look into it, and we get really busy, trust me, I have kids, I work,” said Dr. Saxena. “But chatting with your friends, getting away from work and the kids, having some time for yourself, getting a massage, playing ‘Shake it Off’ and dancing when you get home from work, that’s actually a good stress response.”
“The hard thing about stress is if we don’t find a way to relieve it, it manifests in lots of different ways. It leads us to eat poorly, make poor decisions when it comes to drug and alcohol use, so really stress manifests. Put those shoulders down, take the deep breaths, laugh and enjoy,” she added.