Women's heart disease risk focus of luncheon

Just about every one of around 260 people who attended a heart health luncheon in Richland on Friday wore something red to mark the national day set aside for awareness of heart disease in women.

They also heard some sobering information from Dr. Deepa Upadhyaya, a cardiologist at Kadlec Regional Medical Center, about how more women than men die of heart disease each year, and more women die of heart disease than die of breast cancer.

"This is a subject very near and dear to my heart -- the prevention of heart disease," Upadhyaya said.

The luncheon was sponsored by Kadlec, but Kennewick General Hospital also observed National Wear Red Day on Friday.

Many members of the KGH staff wore red dress lapel pins to recognize the day or wore red clothing to work.

And KGH officials offered some sobering information of their own, such as the fact that more than 433,000 American women die of heart disease each year.

"Many women may not realize that heart disease is still the number one killer of women age 20 and over," said Angela Larkins, a registered nurse and KGH's cardiac and stroke coordinator.

Upadhyaya and Larkins emphasized that heart attack symptoms often are different in women than in men.

A heart attack happens when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot.

If blood flow is completely cut off, that part of the heart muscle starts to die.

Typical heart attack symptoms include pressure or pain in the center of the chest; pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; sweating; nausea and lightheadedness.

But women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms without chest pain, a KGH news release said.

Upadhyaya said many women tend to ignore their symptoms because they just don't think they are experiencing heart disease.

"They are very religious about getting their mammograms, but I can't get them into my office in time," she said.

She said most studies of heart disease and clinical trials of new drugs and treatments focus on men, so heart disease in women isn't as well understood.

The medical community is making strides and reducing mortality, but rising levels of obesity in the nation could undo some of that work.

"If we do not take care of obesity ... the worry is (deaths) will start trending back up," Upadhyaya said.

She said the best way to prevent heart disease is through diet and exercise.

A 2008 study suggested a Mediterranean diet that balances low-fat protein, vegetables and whole grains proved the most beneficial, she said.

She also said people at risk for heart disease should talk to their doctors about whether aspirin therapy or fish oil supplements might benefit them.

Other suggestions from the American Heart Association include:

-- Getting 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day;

-- Don't smoke or quit smoking if you do;

-- Keep track of health indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and body mass index;

-- Reduce stress, which can cause people to overeat, be sedentary or engage in other risky behaviors;

-- Maintain a healthy weight;

-- Be aware of and discuss with a doctor risk factors such as age, gender, race or ethnicity, family history and other medical conditions;

-- Pay attention to warning signs and visit a doctor early if they pop up;

-- Read up on heart disease and know the facts;

-- Get regular medical check-ups to keep track of heart health and risk factors.