Campaign aims to educate women about heart disease
By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published February 20, 2013
It's been 10 years since the American Heart Association started encouraging people to "Go Red for Women" during the month of February. Despite the push for awareness, some people may still be surprised to learn just how prevalent the disease is in women.
"(Heart disease) kills more women than cancer does, and we don't think about it like that. People think breast cancer or ovarian cancer even, but (heart disease) is the No. 1 killer for women," said Karen Campf, director of educational services at Alliance Community Hospital.
The reason the disease claims so many lives, Campf said, is because women are often too busy to take care of their own health needs and tend to ignore the symptoms of a heart attack. In women, these symptoms may also be mistaken for the flu because they can include things like cold sweats, nausea, stomach pains and shortness of breath.
Campf said there are numerous stories about women being caught off guard by heart attacks because of the symptoms they had, including younger women.
"As women, we're used to taking care of everybody else. We don't think about ourselves, so when we have symptoms like that we really do brush it off," she said. "If somebody else had those symptoms, we'd be getting them to the doctor or the hospital, but we just think, 'Oh, I've got the flu, I've got a bad cold, I'm just under too much stress.'"
Campf said if your symptoms persist or you have shortness of breath when walking a flight of stairs, it is time to seek help, especially if you have a strong family history of heart disease.
While you can't do anything about heredity, Campf said there are some things that you can do to lower your risk of heart disease:
Just say no to smoking -- If you smoke, stop. Also try to avoid secondhand smoke.
Eat a healthy diet -- Practice healthier eating habits and portion control. "Don't think of yourself as going on a diet, think of it as a healthy lifestyle."
Get your exercise -- Increase the amount of exercise you get in your daily life. "Any amount of exercise, whether it be just walking, or using a treadmill or a bike -- that's the important thing."
Don't overdo alcohol -- Avoid drinking too much alcohol. "A little bit is okay; it's the excessive amount that's not good."
Lessen your stress -- Reducing stress is important. "As women, we're not good about taking time for ourselves. We take care of everybody else and forget about ourselves, but the (American Heart Association) really pushes the fact that you should take 20 minutes a day to relax and do whatever you want to do and take that time for yourself.
"You need to look at your lifestyle and (ask) what changes do I need to make so that I don't have problems with my heart," Campf added. "The thing is to take care of yourself. Get rest, eat a healthy diet, move around, and when you have problems, go to the doctor. If you have known high blood pressure, then you need to have it treated. If you're a diabetic, then you need to keep it under control because all those things together will make your chance of having heart disease worse."
When the arteries leading to the heart become blocked either by cholesterol buildup or a blood clot, it affects the blood from circulating through the heart, which means the heart is not getting oxygenated. Campf said this is what leads to chest discomfort and shortness of breath. For those who do have a heart attack, getting help immediately is important.
"You need to get to the emergency room because there's so many things we can do now to stop that heart attack and prevent the damage to your heart," she said.
Campf, who began her more-than-30-year career in nursing in the intensive coronary unit, is amazed by the changes that have taken place in medical care for heart attacks. Not only have stays in the hospital shortened, but if patients get help in time, damage can even be prevented. Campf said the goal of ACH staff is to get heart attack patients into a cath lab at Aultman or Mercy hospitals within 90 minutes.
"It's awesome to see how wonderful (the treatments are) and the lives that we're saving because of the technology that we have. But the more important thing is stopping that heart disease from occurring all together," she added.
To continue that ultimate goal, the most important things are education and lowering risk factors.
"I do think the education is working and a woman is more apt to think, 'Could this be my heart?' than she would have in the past when it was thought of as such a man disease," Campf said. "But we constantly have to get that word out that people of all ages (are at risk for) not just heart attacks, but stroke and peripheral vascular disease."
To assess your risk for heart disease, you can take a quiz called Heart Aware at www.achosp.org or www.heart.org. For more information about Heart Aware, contact ACH's Cardio Pulmonary Services at 330-596-7100.