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Dispelling the myths of women’s heart disease

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The Signal Tribune spoke with Cindy Peters, Long Beach Medical Center’s women’s cardiac health-nurse practitioner, to discuss the details of heart disease and the misconceptions of how the illness affects females.

Below is a Q&A with the expert, conducted by Signal Tribune Production Manager Daniel Green.

Daniel Green: What are the most common misconceptions among women concerning heart disease?

Cindy Peters: Women have the misconception that the biggest killer of women is breast cancer. Heart disease kills more women then all forms of cancer combined.

Green: I saw that some symptoms of heart disease can affect women differently than men. Is there a reason this happens? And what should women be aware of?

Peters: Women have different symptoms than men when having a heart attack. These include jaw pain, back pain, fatigue, sweating and dizziness. If women are having any concerning symptoms, they should go directly to the ER.

Green: Are certain groups of women more likely to suffer from heart disease?

Peters: About 5.8 percent of all white women, 7.6 percent of black women and 5.6 percent of Mexican-American women have coronary heart disease. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.

Green: What should women be asking their doctors or healthcare providers?

Peters: Ask your doctor what are my risk factors? Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and high triglycerides, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes and pre-diabetes are all risk factors [that] can be changed or prevented.

Green: There’s a lot of general advice, such as eating healthy or exercising. Do you have any specific foods that you recommend that patients avoid? Is one form of exercise better for your health?

Peters: Follow a healthy eating plan, [one that is] low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Limit salt and sodium, limit alcoholic beverages to no more than a day, choose a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables daily. Choose fish, poultry and lean cuts of meat. Recommended exercise is two hours and 30 minutes a week, or 30 minutes five days a week.

Green: Beyond nutrition and exercise, what can people do that they may not be aware of?

Peters: Know your numbers! Know what your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are.

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Dispelling the myths of women’s heart disease