February 13, 2007
Contact: Jennifer Forbes
Women Take Heart: February is American Heart Month
Understanding Risk Factors and Unique Symptoms Helps Avoid Heart Disease
NEW BRUNSWICK — February is American Heart Month and it’s no secret that
coronary heart disease is America's number one killer, according to the American Heart Association. Although the affects of heart disease are well known, the secret may be the unique differences in the symptoms that affect men and women. In fact, many symptoms found in women are easily, and often, overlooked, shrugged off as just a part of the stress that comes with life.
As the caregiver in many families, women typically pay more attention to their loved ones' health before taking care of themselves. This can be detrimental to their heart health, says cardiologist Alan K. Tannenbaum, MD, assistant professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and medical director of the cardiac exercise and rehabilitation training program at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Group. "When women overlook their own health, particularly symptoms that affect their cardiovascular system, heart disease advances causing long-term health concerns."
According to Dr. Tannenbaum, women need to be familiar with the atypical symptoms of heart disease such as fatigue, shortness of breath, pain in the neck and/or jaw, all of which are symptoms of other, sometimes common, ailments. But these symptoms, whether or not combined with the better known symptoms such as tightness in the chest and pain or weakness in one or both arms, should encourage women to seek medical treatment immediately.
But, Dr. Tannenbaum adds, these symptoms can be avoided if women are aware of and can control the risk factors that lead to heart disease. This includes having a family history of heart disease and/or diabetes, having high blood pressure or high cholesterol and smoking. The risk of heart disease is even higher if a woman smokes and uses birth control pills.
If a woman is at risk with any of these factors, she should be screened early, before age 40. Screening can be done by an internist or family practitioner, who will recommend seeing a cardiologist based on the outcome of the screening.
"Cardiologists are seeing women at much younger ages," says Dr. Tannenbaum. "There has been an increase in the number of women who smoke and who have high cholesterol. As troublesome, there is an epidemic increase in women who suffer from obesity. This is a huge concern for heart health because diabetes is caused by fat and significantly increases the risk for heart disease."
Besides screening for those who know they are at risk, women can be proactive in the prevention of heart disease and those measures, of course, are no secret. "Diet and exercise are fundamental to a healthy heart," says Dr. Tannenbaum. Equally important, he says, "Don't smoke." Women also should get regular exercise; simply walking 30 minutes a day three times a week decreases the risk of heart disease, walking five times a week decreases the risk even more.
"Form a habit," Dr. Tannenbaum says. "And separate exercise from work; walk when it's at your leisure to reduce stress, but walk briskly to get your heart rate up." For those who experience joint problems and arthritis, Dr. Tannenbaum recommends exercising in the water. "Water aerobics or simply walking around a pool provide the same benefit," he says.
Members of the media who would like to interview Dr. Tannenbaum should call Jennifer Forbes at (732) 235-6356.
UMDNJ is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.