P. Mona Khanna explains that heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in women.
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Rebecca: Welcome to icyou.com.’s web calls with Dr. Mona. Our medical editor Dr. Mona is with us today to talk about a very important but often overlooked issue, heart disease in women. And Dr. Mona, I here so much about breast cancer in women but not heart disease in women. Why is that? Dr: Well Rebecca, that’s because in absolute numbers, breast cancer actually affects more women. Unfortunately though, heart disease is what takes women’s lives in greater numbers. Rebecca: you know, one of the interesting connections I always hear about is, hormones in cancer. Different types of cancer. Is there a link between hormones and heart disease? Dr. Mona: we think that estrogen and progesterone have a protective effect on the heart. And that’s because we see most women catching up to men in terms of the numbers of having heart disease after menopause when our estrogen and progesterone levels dropped dramatically. So, just by hypothesis, we think that they then protect a woman’s heart. Rebecca: Are the signs and symptoms for heart disease different in women than they are for men? Dr. Mona: They can be different Rebecca. And that's what makes the diagnosis so difficult. Typical signs and symptoms of heart disease or having a heart attack are pain in chest, sometimes crushing pain, incredible sweating, shortness of breath, a feeling of nausea. Women though are likely to have atypical symptoms. And those include a feeling of restlessness over a period of time. A feeling of doom, insomnia, incredible fatigue, it’s been documented that one woman felt so tired, she couldn’t even pick up a pen. That’s a very, very unusual and atypical symptom of having heart disease but it occurs more in women than it does in men. So, we really look for a change. Rebecca: Because the symptoms are so vague, does that mean more women are not getting diagnosed? Dr. Mona: That’s exactly right. In fact, the arte of missed diagnosis in women who have heart disease is alarmingly high and that's because when you have symptoms and signs that are so ambiguous, it’s difficult to pinpoint what the problem is. But again, the key is change. A change in how you feel and make sure you document or record all of these signs and symptoms so that when you do go to see the doctor, you can let him or her know. And that’s why risk factors are so important when we think about diagnosing heart disease. Rebecca: Let’s talk about risk factors. What are the risk factors for women? Dr. Mona: Women’s risk factor is the same as men’s risk factors in large amounts. The first is smoking. Smoking is the number one cause of any preventable disease including heart disease. The second is age. We find that women, as they get older and especially right after menopause that the numbers of those having heart disease start to mirror men’s. That’s why we think there may be a protective effect of those hormones, estrogen and progesterone. But after menopause, the risk is greater for women. Another risk factor is having diabetes, having high blood pressure, having high cholesterol. Those are all risk factors for developing heart disease. Rebecca: So, I would assume that the preventive measure are the same for women as they are for men? Dr. Mona: They very much are. Watch your diet. Make sure it’s low in saturated fats but high in monounsaturated fats. Especially the natural fatty acids like those found in avocadoes. You want to make sure that your diet is high in fruit and vegetables because those have been shown to help ward off heart disease. You want t make sure that you exercise at least the recommended daily allowance for exercise. And that's 30 minutes a day of vigorous exercise, five or more days a week. And then again, if you have any of the risk factors that we just discussed, make sure that your threshold looking for any changes is a little bit higher because you know hat you’re predisposed to having heart disease. Rebecca: I can only speak for myself but I know that I don’t want to bother my