Women are often busy with work, family, and life in general, and tend to serve as caregivers for their children but also at times spouses, aging parents or other family members.
“We often don’t make time to take care of ourselves, especially our heart health, like we really should,” says Dr. Supriya Tigadi of UConn Health’s Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center. “We need to start taking better care of hearts.”
Tigadi wants to stress a heightened awareness to all women that cardiovascular disease is their number one cause of death. This is why she is sending the strong message that prevention of heart disease is critical and to start focusing on it at a young age.
“Women often think they don’t need to worry about heart disease or heart attack, but they do!” stresses Tigadi. “My goal is to reach women across communities of all ages as heart disease does not discriminate. It affects us all.”
According to Tigadi, data shows that women can present with atypical symptoms and often arrive to the Emergency Department later than their male counterparts, and are often underdiagnosed and undertreated for cardiovascular diseases and heart attack. Plus, compared to men they have longer wait times to receive cardiac EKG testing to diagnose a heart issue, as well as, delayed openings of blocked heart arteries during a heart attack.
Tigadi adds: “In post-menopausal women, the risk of heart disease increases tremendously and 1 in 3 deaths is from heart disease and stroke. Early lifestyle changes accompanied with medications for cholesterol when appropriate will prevent heart disease.”
Top women’s heart health tips from Dr. Tigadi of UConn Health’s Calhoun Cardiology Center:
1. Beware of heart disease and its risk factors: Make sure you visit your doctor for an annual checkup where they will listen to your heart, check your blood pressure, weight or body mass index (a healthy BMI is 25 or less), and your blood for any elevated biomarkers for heart disease such as high cholesterol, and also diabetes such as elevated glucose levels.
2. Practice a healthy diet and lifestyle: Choose a Mediterranean Diet rich in plant-based foods and lots of green vegetables, oats, beans, nuts and lean proteins that are best for heart health. Also, limit your salt intake. Tigadi’s number one tip for grocery food shopping is to skip the center aisles all together filled with cookies, chips, and sweets and only visit the outer sections for fresh produce, milk, eggs, and meat. Go grocery food shopping 2-3 times per week to get the best fresh, and more tasty food options, and avoid processed foods. Note, frozen vegetables are fine but may be less tasty then the fresh options.
3. Control high cholesterol and blood pressure: Your cholesterol (lipids or fat in your blood) should be 200 or less. For LDL cholesterol (bad) it should be 100 or less, and for HDL cholesterol (good) it should be 50 or more. Also, your triglyceride level, if high, is an additional indicator that you may need to make dietary changes to cut down on your consumption of carbohydrate heavy-foods. Early aggressive blood pressure control with low sodium diet and medications when appropriate will reduce heart disease risk. Goal BP after treatment is less than 130/90.
4. Follow-up on pregnancy hormone-related issues and future risks: It is important to stay on top of your heart health during pregnancy, after pregnancy, and throughout your lifetime. Pregnancy loss, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy, puts women at higher risk of developing type II diabetes, heart disease and stroke as they grow older. Research shows that diabetes and heart disease often are two diseases that go hand-in-hand. But often women are not followed post-pregnancy for their elevated risks. All women with risk factors should get a comprehensive physical examination including BP check, blood work to check for blood sugar and cholesterol should be performed within 3 months of the delivery of the baby.
5. Exercise Daily: The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recommends moderate to vigorous exercise of all ages. Brisk walking for 30 minutes a day or 150 minutes a week, or strenuous exercise including running, swimming for at least 75 minutes a week. This daily exercise not only can lead to weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight, but also overtime increases your exercise capacity and overall cardiovascular fitness. Getting your heart rate up during exercise is important daily as it helps all sugars in the body to be processed, mobilizes any extra fat to be turned into glucose, and rapidly secreted via the liver from your body. “When our exercise capacity is elevated we live longer, healthier and better,” says Tigadi.
6. Do not smoke, do not smoke, do not smoke: Smoking tobacco causes coronary artery disease and is a significant risk factor that we can control. Smoking cessation will reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and arterial disease of the legs. While smoking rates have dipped overall, it has increased in recent years among women.
7. Stay on guard for heart attack warning signs: Don’t ever brush off possible heart attack symptoms. In the U.S. women have 50 percent of the heart attacks. But female heart attacks can often be underdiagnosed due to female underreporting of symptoms perhaps because they feel it differently says Tigadi. Sometimes women can ignore or have a delayed recognition of their heart attack symptoms, waiting to go to the Emergency Department. Heart attack warning signs can include: chest pain or tightness/squeezing, shortness of breath, dizziness, or even atypical symptoms of severe nausea, indigestion, and a heartburn sensation.
8. Keep your stress low: Stress can impact your overall health, including your heart health, due to the body’s release of stress hormones and elevated levels of inflammation. Also, severe stress, for example the loss of a loved one or chronic stress can lead to Broken Heart Syndrome which is a type of acute cardiomyopathy or heart failure. According to Tigadi patients with the stress-related heart condition should seek care immediately and be treated more aggressively since research shows their hearts do respond to treatment and can recover.
Tigadi joined UConn Health last year as an assistant professor of medicine in the Calhoun Cardiology Center after completing a fellowship in cardiology at UConn School of Medicine following her residency.
“I am so happy to be back at UConn Health,” says Tigadi. “UConn has such a very strong program for cardiovascular disease care. I am so proud to be a part of it.”