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Women, We Can Be Our Own Worst Enemy

I am continuing this series of articles about taking control of your health because of the questions and frustrations I see with my friends, family and patients. This is your body and you need to own it especially when it comes to your health. I realized it can be scary and many patients do feel out of control.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You need to find a trusted healthcare professional that you can talk to and one who will allow you to be a partner in your healthcare. Find someone who allows you to take an active role. And the number one rule is don’t be afraid to ask questions. Doctors are human and medicine is not an exact science. Remember you are the expert when it comes to you own body. This is what I tell my friends, family and patients alike.

Women and Heart Disease
Ten years ago I wrote an newspaper article and spoke on television about how women were still second-class citizens when it came to heart disease. I discussed the huge gender disparity citing studies back then, such as:

  • A 2008 study in Circulationfinds women with severe heart attacks have a higher death rate than men and are less likely to received recommended therapies and procedures like aspirin, beta blockers, angioplasty and stents
  • A 2009 study in online Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomefinds women with heart attack symptoms seeing a delay in transport time when they call 911
  • A 2009 study European Journal of Heart Failurefinds women treated less intensively than men and less likely to receive medications called ACE inhibitors and beta blockers

Fast-forward almost decade a 2018 study in Circulation still finds both women and their doctors were more likely to miss the signs of heart attack in comparison with men. Despite 17 years since the “Red Dress campaign” started, which was designed to alert women in the month of February to their risk for heart disease and heart attack, we still have this gender bias related to heart disease.

Now it’s true we have more atypical presentations of our heart attacks, not the usual chest pain men describe. And it’s also true we get more subtle symptoms like indigestion, fatigue, shortness of breath or sweating, but come on ladies we have been discussing this every February for almost 2 decades!

We Need to Prioritize Ourselves 
A large part of this is due to us. We women are our own worst enemy! We are intuitive but the real issue is that we don’t make ourselves a priority.  And by not doing this we are actually contributing to the gender bias.  Susan Lucci’s recent brush is a prime example but she is not alone, I see this every day in the ER. And I have to admit even as an ER doc, I tend to brush off strange sensations myself as nothing.

We constantly put ourselves last especially when it comes to our health. I recall a patient who was having a stroke and came in on Thanksgiving, despite her not being able to move her left arm, she kept telling me that she could not possibly be admitted to the hospital and get treatment because her turkey was in the oven and she had 20 people coming over for dinner! We have to stop doing this!

We are vigilant and decisive when it comes to the health of our families.

We need to do the same for ourselves. As women it is even more critical to become the Powerful Patient and take control of our health. We are the glue that holds our families together and when mama is sick it affects the whole family.

Know Our Risks
One of the first things we can do is know our risks. There are some risk factors we can't change. We can’t pick your family, so there is not much we can do about our genetics or a family history.

Therefore it is critical to maximize and reduce the preventable risk factors such as smoking. As well as modifying your life style which, can lower our risk with diet and exercise. This will decrease our chances of getting diabetes, having high blood pressure or being obese. All this in turn can then lower our cholesterol too.

Next you need to know our numbers.  According to the American Heart Association, our total cholesterol should be less than 200, optimally with the bad cholesterol the LDL less 100. Our good cholesterol should be 50 or higher. Our triglycerides should be less than 150, and our fasting blood sugar should be less than 100.  Our blood pressure should run around or, less than 120/80. We need to know our BMI (body mass index), which is an approximation of our body fat, related to your height and weight.  It should be less than 25 and our waist circumference should be less than 35 inches. Being outside these parameters can put us at increased risk for heart disease.

The next steps are to find a healthcare professional to partner with you on this journey to discuss your risk and any treatment you may need.  There are many new medications and therapies that can help lower your risk, as well treatment and procedures today, such as cardiac catheterization and stents to break up the clots and open blockage causing a heart attack and prevent heart damage, but you have to get to a hospital quickly!

Listen To Our Body
And that is why the number one most important piece of advice that I can give you as a doctor and a woman; is don’t ignore what you are feeling. Use that woman’s intuition to become that Powerful Patient and take control of your health.

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© Dr. Leigh Vinocur, 2022.