BALTIMORE (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Heart failure affects 2.5 million women in the United States, but many are unaware of the threat they face. While men and women can share many of the same symptoms, women have their own set of unique symptoms to watch out for.
Nancy Poe has been living with her aches and pains for 15 years now. She's had eight stents put in for heart disease and was diagnosed with lung cancer the same day.
"Some days I hurt, but then I stop and I rest and then I get up and I keep going," Poe told Ivanhoe.
But two years ago, she couldn't even do that.
"I felt like I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even walk from one room to the other room in the trailer," Poe said.
Poe's hands and feet also began to swell. Her doctor diagnosed her with congestive heart failure. It's a condition in which the heart can't pump blood the way it should. It accounts for 159,000 women dying each year - that's four times as many women as breast cancer.
"Women don't have the typical symptoms," Dr. Ali Tabrizchi, interventional cardiologist at the Heart Center at Sinai in Baltimore told Ivanhoe.
Dr. Tabrizchi said that often leads women to ignore them - symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling or unexplained weight gain.
"Alot of patients can get used to their symptoms. Shortness of breath, they may downplay and say well I'm just a little overweight or I'm getting a little bit older so I'm not going to walk as far," Dr. Tabrizchi said.
The doctor said even if you only have one of these symptoms you need to be evaluated for underlying heart disease. That's what Poe's daughter Ginny did. After her mom was diagnosed, the fit 50-something started getting shortness of breath and had heart flutters.
"Never did I think, never did I think that it would be anything with my heart," Ginny explained.
But she listened to her body and after seeing her doctor, found out she had congestive heart failure too.
"I could have, I could have not made it," Ginny explained.
Now she's thankful she didn't let it go.
The leading causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes. Dr. Tabrizchi said the best way to prevent heart failure is to prevent those conditions. Follow a healthy diet, don't smoke, exercise five days a week and work with your doctor to control high blood pressure and diabetes.
CAUSES OF CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE: Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart's cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs, is caused by 3 kinds of diseases:
Diseases that weaken the heart muscle
Diseases that cause stiffening of the heart muscles
Diseases that increase oxygen demand by the body tissue beyond the capability of the heart to deliver adequate oxygen-rich blood
These include diseases like heart disease, hypertension, hemochromatosis, amyloidosis, hyperthyroidism, and anemia. (Source: Medicine Net)
TREATMENT SURGERIES AND DEVICES: Patients can opt for heart valve repair or replacement to treat the underlying conditions that led to congestive heart failure, coronary bypass surgery if the disease results from severely narrowed coronary arteries, a heart transplant, or a myectomy when medication no longer relieves symptoms (a myectomy is the removal of overgrown septal muscle in the heart to decrease blockage). Three commonly used treatment devices are the ventricular assist device (VAD), cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) device (biventricular cardiac pacemaker), and internal cardiac defibrillator. (Source: Mayo Clinic)
EXERCISE REHAB FOR WOMEN: Many women are recommended to enter a cardiac rehabilitation program after their first heart attack, often engaging in exercises like walking on a treadmill, riding an exercise bicycle or lifting light weights to build muscle. These treatments help strengthen the heart muscle without placing too much strain that could trigger a cardiac event. It would be beneficial to exercise this way to prevent heart attacks from happening in the first place. (Source: Live Strong)
NUTRITION FOR PREVENTION: When tailoring your diet to prevent congestive heart failure, avoid or limit alcohol to one drink two or three times a week, avoid or limit caffeine, and eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet. (Source: Mayo Clinic)
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