Heart disease is the number one killer for women, greater than all other cancers combined, Dr. Paige Hatcher said Monday at St. Luke Hospital’s Lunch and Learn presentation.
“Even changing one little thing to reduce your risk, can make a big difference,” she said.
She did not want people to be afraid of heart disease, but it was important to know how serious it could be and through small steps, the chances of developing the disease could be greatly reduced.
“Several of the factors that cause the disease we can control,” she said, “and it’s never too early to make a small change that will greatly reduce your risk.”
She said causes people can control include, weight, eating habits, exercise, cholesterol, smoking, and blood pressure. By altering any one of these causes, women can reduce their risk by as much as half, Hatcher said.
Each cause of the disease doubles the chance of a woman developing heart disease, which means for example, if you are obese, smoke, and have high blood pressure you are eight times more likely to develop heart disease than someone is who doesn’t.
“Many people think this is something they can address later, but once the damage is done, it’s permanent,” Hatcher said. “There are treatments, but they’re like treating a cut on your arm by making the cut bigger. Heart disease is harder to fight once it’s diagnosed, but easy to prevent.
“There are things you can’t control like family history, genetic makeup, or age, but making a small change in things you can control goes a long ways to reducing risks.”
Small things include getting 30 minutes of exercise a day by simply walking at a pace high enough to increase heart rates, or reducing sodium in diets.
“Don’t try and make all the recommended changes at once, because they just don’t work,” Hatcher said. “Pick one thing from the list to improve on, and once that becomes habit pick something else. Do things that make sense because if you try to change everything at once you’ll hate it and will fail.”
Part of reducing the risk for heart disease means not doing everything right all the time, Hatcher said, but do not be afraid to reward your successes.
“If you go into this thinking you’re going to eat everything right all the time then you’re just setting yourself up for failure because you have so many opportunities to put the wrong thing in your mouth,” she said. “Set small obtainable goals like eating out less and cooking more and if you can’t do 30 minutes of exercise a day do what you can because at least it’s a step in the right direction.”
Hatcher said she is attempting to make a change in her own life by making a healthier form of her favorite food, macaroni and cheese.
“Eat food you can make yourself because it’s healthier,” she said. “I eat mac and cheese at least once a week. If I make it, instead of cooking the box stuff it will be healthier. I might eat it less, and it might not taste as good, but it will be better for me.”
Hatcher believes many women think heart disease is something older women get, that is caused in short periods of time when actually it develops over years.
“Heart disease is essentially cutting off blood and oxygen to your heart, suffocating it,” she said. “It takes years for the blockage to develop and cause problems.”
She also believes many women do not think about heart disease because they believe it is an older women’s problem.
“After metaphase the chance for heart disease goes way up due to hormone changes, that means women ages 40 to 60 are the most at risk,” she said. “The biggest reason I believe women don’t think about heart disease is because they are too busy taking care of others that they don’t think about their own health.”
Those with questions about heart disease or want to know how they can reduce their risks can contact Hatcher and discuss them.
“I try to be a no-shame place to go and talk,” she said. “Most people only go to the doctor when they have a cold, but that is short term and this is long, it’s important to talk about especially if you think you’re at risk.”