February is Heart Month, and thanks to Valentine's Day we're surrounded by reminders to think about our hearts. Every time you see a candy heart or a heart-shaped card, remember your own heart and what you can do to keep it healthy. To help you get started, we're offering an online Media Library filled with podcasts and videos with expert advice from some of the best and brightest cardiologists in the area. Here's to a happy, healthy heart!
Q & A with Your Local Expert
Women and Heart Disease
Dr. Jon Bittrick, Upstate Cardiology
How does heart disease affect women differently?
There are some aspects of heart health and heart disease that are universal. A healthy diet, regular exercise program and low stress lifestyle all are good for heart health, no matter if you are a man or a woman. Likewise, smoking and uncontrolled diabetes are bad for all hearts.
One difference for women is that research shows that a woman's heart is protected, to a degree, by estrogen until she reaches menopause. However, this protective effect does not mean that women don't have to worry about exercise or eating right until menopause. There appears to be a "catch-up" phenomenon in women in which heart disease progresses more quickly or in more problematic ways than men once estrogen levels decrease.
Are women's heart attacks different than men's?
What happens in the heart during a heart attack is the same for both men and women, but the symptoms that you feel can be very different. Women don't always have the classic symptom of chest pain. Their symptoms can be vague, and include fatigue, shortness of breath, and general malaise as opposed to pain. They also can experience discomfort and pressure in the arm, neck or back rather than in the chest. That's why it's important for women to know these signs and contact a doctor or hospital immediately if they suspect a heart attack.
Heart disease runs in my family. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?
Yes. Even though family history is a risk factor that you can't control, there are plenty of risk factors that you can control. You can reduce your risk significantly by getting regular exercise (20-30 minutes most days of the week), eating a healthy diet (in my opinion, the closer you get to a vegetarian diet the better), not smoking, and working with your doctor to manage high cholesterol and high blood pressure, if you have them.
Learn more from Dr. Bittrick by listening to his podcast:
Does a High Resting Heart Rate Cause Heart Attacks?Advice from Your Local Expert
Dr. Barbara Moran-Faile, Upstate Cardiology
Recently, a heart-related study made the news suggesting that having an elevated heart rate could increase your chances of suffering a fatal heart attack. We've asked cardiologist Dr. Barbara Moran-Faile for her take on what we need to take away from this study. She says:
A normal resting heart rate is 60-100, and having a resting heart rate in the 80s is not a cause of concern. A consistent resting heart rate over 100 is a cause for concern as over time it may lead to a weakened heart muscle.
This particular study is a population based observational study that shows associations between a high heart rate and fatal heart attacks. However, you should not draw the conclusion that an elevated resting heart rate is the cause of fatal heart attacks.
For example, imagine there was a population based observational study that concludes that people who carry matches or lighters die from lung cancer more than people who do not carry these items. While it's ridiculous to assume that simply carrying matches or lighters causes lung cancer, people who carry these items are more likely to be smokers, therefore are more likely to have lung cancer. So, there's an association between carrying matches and having lung cancer, but it is not the cause of the lung cancer.
Similarly, people with elevated resting heart rates often (but not always) are not in good physical shape and often pursue a less than healthy lifestyle. Of course those people are going to be more likely to have a heart attack, but the heart rate is not the cause of the elevated risk of heart attack.
Bottom line: if you have a resting heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute, it needs to be evaluated by your physician. In addition, everyone needs to be physically active and follow a healthy lifestyle incorporating diet, exercise, stress reduction and regular medical examination to reduce their overall risk of heart disease and stroke.