featuring Dr. Robyn Hubbard
The heart is a vital organ that we should pay attention to day in and day out throughout our life. Did you know that one in three women die of heart disease, while one in 31 die of breast cancer each year?
We asked Dr. Robyn Hubbard, a specialist at Grand Rapids Women’s Health, about women and their heart; hopefully her answers enlighten women and aid in making new heart-healthy decisions and habits.
Q: Dr. Hubbard, please tell us something most women will be amazed to learn about heart attacks and heart health.
A: Well, to start, women are much less aware of what is going on when they have a heart attack. It’s reported that women who have heart issues often ignore them because they can’t believe that they are having symptoms that might indicate a heart attack.
A shocking fact is that 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms or ones that they recognize.
Explain some of these symptoms and your take on why women don’t get treated for them.
Women tend to think that a heart attack means having chest pains. While that may be a symptom, women often have different symptoms than men. Women are more likely to feel a shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, light-headedness or fainting.
Because these symptoms are not the “stereotypical” signs of a heart attack, women will often ignore them and pass them off as something else. Some women who are the caregivers in the family will ignore how they are feeling and will keep helping others in the family rather than seeing a doctor or getting to an emergency room.
What should women do to help prevent heart disease?
•Start getting checked at age 20 for cholesterol and blood pressure. If your cholesterol is normal, get rechecked every three to five years. If there is an abnormality, follow your doctor’s recommendations. More people are being treated for prevention of heart disease at lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol than they used to. It’s proved that these treatments reduce heart disease in women.
•Watch what you eat, don’t smoke, and exercise on a regular basis.
•Know your family history and if there is a history of heart disease in your family, especially of someone under the age of 50, tell your doctor this history.
•Maintain a healthy weight.
•Get good sleep! Poor sleep can increase blood pressure, which can contribute to heart disease
•Reduce stress through meditation, exercise, yoga, counseling, and/or stress management classes. Stress is a big contributor to all kinds of problems.
What about someone who is fit and athletic and gets her heart rate up on a regular basis. Do they need to be as concerned as someone else who is overweight and more sedentary?
Yes, they still should be heart aware. Even though being active helps maintain health, you still need to get screened for cholesterol and blood pressure. Sometimes heart issues are passed along genetically or are congenital.
At what age should a woman begin thinking about their risk of a heart attack?
I would say that women of all ages should be thinking about heart issues. Prevention is the key to avoiding heart disease. Start thinking “smart” as early as possible, but understand too, that it’s never too late.
What kinds of foods are good to help prevent heart disease?
Make sure to balance out a large portion of your diet with vegetables, fruits and water. Eat the “good fats”; polyunsaturated fat found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish (which have omega fatty acids). I would limit animal fat found in butter and red meats. Reduce salt (increases blood pressure) and sugar (contributes to diabetes and obesity).
What advice would you give to any woman, regardless of their condition, about testing for heart disease?
I would advise not to procrastinate in taking care of you. We tend care for others before ourselves. Remember, if symptoms turn into a problem, you won’t be able to take care of other people. And don’t ignore red flags such as the symptoms I’ve described.
Are there any parting messages?
My grandmother, who was robust and active, was having a weird heartburn that she’d never experienced. Once her doctor checked her, she was immediately air-lifted to the nearest heart center for care. She was able to get what she needed in time. She’s still alive today at 91 years old.
Check out more information courtesy of the American Heart Association at www.heart.org. Save your heart for the one that matters most – you!
Dr. Robyn Hubbard, MD is an OBGYN at Grand Rapids Women’s Health. Her main emphasis within her career is to help women and their families understand health issues and their options for care. She says, “I focus on being a good listener and being compassionate. I make sure to take the time to help my patients become healthier human beings.”