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February is American Heart Month

Five things you can do to take care of your heart

Colleen McCurry, MD

Dr. Colleen McCurry, Gundersen Boscobel Area Hospital and Clinics

Approximately 90 percent of women have risk factors for heart disease, yet many women are unaware that heart disease is the greatest threat to their health.

"Women's symptoms of heart disease can be subtle compared to men's, and their response to them is often delayed," explains Colleen McCurry, MD, Family Medicine, Gundersen Boscobel. "Women may feel tired or easily fatigued, but they often make excuses to themselves about what is happening and dismiss the signs."

There are anatomical distinctions as well. Women tend to develop diffuse plaque that usually builds up evenly in their arteries, which are smaller than a man's. "This is significant because it makes it harder for doctors to see a blockage in a woman's arteries," says McCurry. "The challenge is compounded because women typically wait longer to go to the emergency room when they are having a heart attack, and they are less likely to present with chest pain and EKG changes. As a result, physicians may be slower to recognize heart attacks in women."

Dr. Colleen McCurry says lifestyle changes can reduce a woman's risk of heart disease by as much as 80 percent. Even making incremental improvements can make a huge difference.

Here are five steps women can take to improve their health and reduce their risk of heart disease:

  1. Get Active. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking five times a week. Losing as few as five to ten pounds can have tremendous benefits for your heart.
  2. Eat Better. Instead of trying out a succession of fad diets, begin to substitute more vegetables and fruits for less healthy items in your diet. Also try to use fiber-rich whole-grain breads and cereals and fat-free or low-fat dairy items. And immediately start to reduce soda, candy and sugary desserts.
  3. Manage Blood Pressure. High blood pressure increases the strain on your heart and arteries. For women who typically act as head of household while maintaining a career outside the home, stress can be a huge driver of unhealthy blood pressure. Quiet reflection for 15 minutes a day can help drive down stress levels.
  4. Stop Smoking. Cigarette smoking damages your entire circulatory system and increases your risk for heart disease. Experts advise doing whatever you can to quit smoking!
  5. Nurture Caring Relationships. Experts say that depression and a lack of social support are risk factors for heart disease.

For an appointment with Colleen McCurry, MD, Family Medicine or a fellow provider in Boscobel, Fennimore or Muscoda, please call Gundersen Boscobel’s central scheduling at (608) 375-4144.

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