Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who's Number One? You May be Surprised

By Maureen Deutermann, R.N., MSN
Director of Community Education

I will never forget a women’s health program the hospital sponsored several years ago. The topic was breast cancer, and the mood in the packed hospital auditorium was somber, the anxiety almost palpable. The participants were there to increase their knowledge about a life threatening disease, which is many women’s secret nightmare.

However, the opening statement of the keynote speaker, a cancer research physician, surprised us. It went something like this: “I know all of you are here because you are worried about dying from breast cancer. But to be honest, I must tell you that most of the women in this room will die of heart disease.” I can’t say the audience breathed any easier with this piece of info, but I’m sure it served as an eye-opener for many participants, myself included.

If you think heart disease is a “man’s disease,” consider these facts:

- Heart disease remains the No.1 killer of women age 20 and over.

- More women die of cardiovascular disease than the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.

- By comparison, while 1 in 30 American women die of breast cancer, 1 in 3 die of cardiovascular disease.

- 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease.

- 80% of cardiac events in women could be prevented if women made the right health choices involving diet, exercise, and not smoking!

So there’s the bad news…or maybe it’s good news, if we use it to take an active role in our health. Want to beat your odds against heart disease? Know your personal risk factors for heart disease and modify the ones you can control (this works for men too, by the way!). Here are the major risk factors you can control:

If you smoke, STOP! Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in this country. Women who both smoke and use birth control pills are playing with a lethal combination.

High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. Women’s cholesterol climbs higher than men’s after the age of 55. Know your numbers and keep cholesterol levels in line by following a low saturated fat diet. Medication may be necessary if lifestyle measures aren’t successful.

Want to stop smoking? Come to Nicotine Anonymous at Sentara Potomac Hospital. This is an anonymous, caring and non-judgemental support group that meets every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in the Hylton Education Center, Room H. Parking is located behind the hospital. There is no charge to attend, and no registration required. For more information, please call 703-670-1328.