Be a Stronghearted Woman
By Kara Martinez Bachman
Moms don’t think often of their hearts. Not in the physical sense, at least. We see them depicted on Valentine’s Day cards, and feel them beating through our workout clothes after Zumba class. We’re often stronghearted in behavior; we stand up for ourselves, and those we love. But do we ever really think about this vital organ — the heart — or about keeping this inner vulnerable spot from falling to weakness?
Many believe keeping our tickers strong is only an issue for men, but in truth, it affects us all.
Cierra Green, MD, of the Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, headquartered in Hattiesburg, said decades ago most thought heart disease was just a concern for men, so it caused the bulk of the research to focus on males. Being male is certainly a risk factor, but we know today that men don’t have the market cornered on this serious concern.
“Also,” Dr. Green explained, “many women sought care from their obstetricians or gynecologists, and there was lower awareness of identifying signs and symptoms of heart disease during those times. In addition, the symptoms of heart disease can be different in women, thus they were likely to be given a different diagnosis for the symptoms they were experiencing by their doctor.”
Because of “alternate” diagnoses, the numbers over the years perhaps haven’t portrayed how many women are actually at risk.
Fellow physician with Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Quenyatta Echols Williams, MD, explained how those symptoms of heart problems can show up differently in men than they do in women.
“Sometimes women experience pain from heart disease differently than the classic chest pressure,” Dr. Williams explained. “Women may describe sharp stabbing pain, and/or pain in the abdomen, jaw or neck. They may have more prominent nausea or shortness of breath. The lack of classic chest pain may lead to a delay in seeking medical help.”
Although being aware of the signs of heart problems is good, it’s just as vital that we educate ourselves on ways to lower the risk of doing damage to our hearts in the first place.
Dr. Williams gave tips on how to decrease the odds of facing cardiovascular issues.
“Preventing and controlling illnesses like diabetes and hypertension can be achieved by decreasing the amount of salt, sugar and fat in the diet and by exercising,” Dr. Williams said. “It may be as simple as walking a few minutes each day, with a goal of increasing to 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily. Decreasing intake of fast food, high salt and sugar snack foods and eating more fruits and vegetables also helps.”
“Of course, medications to treat these problems should also be taken as prescribed,” she said, adding one last tip for those who have already been identified as being at extra risk for problems.
The Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative — which is a network of rural health clinics in southern Mississippi — is just one of many options for seeing a physician who can evaluate heart health, give advice for lifestyle changes, and treat issues that can sometimes be frightening, but often may be controlled by medication and life choices.
“Affordable healthcare for chronic illnesses that lead to heart disease is available to anyone in the community,” Dr. Williams explained, of the work done in the clinics of the organization she and Dr. Green are a part of. “Not only are the office visits more accessible due to pricing, but there are also programs that assist patients in obtaining and continuing their medications.”
If you are concerned about the health of your heart or that of someone you care about, be sure to address it with a professional. It’ll keep your heart as strong as the feelings expressed in a Valentine’s Day card, crafted especially for Mama.
Kara Martinez Bachman is an author, editor, and parent to two teenage kids. Her heart is strong mostly due to lucky genetics, but she also likes to think it’s because she always eats her vegetables.