Food for Thought: Give a gift of love

By Nancy Schuster
Frontier District Extension Agent

Along with Valentine’s Day, February marks American Heart Month, a great time to commit to a healthy lifestyle and give the love of your life encouragement to have a well-woman doctor visit.  An annual checkup gives your doctor the chance to spot the signs of heart disease while there’s still time to take necessary steps to conquer it.

Here’s why heart disease is a strong concern for women:

  • Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute, while 1 in 31 American women die from breast cancer each year.
  • 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
  • Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.

foodforthoughtEvery woman should schedule an annual well woman visit with their health care provider. The visit will be tailored to your age, family history, past health history, and need for preventive screenings, plus checking blood pressure, height, weight and temperature. The exam will also screen for other health problems that are unique to women, including mammograms for breast cancer, pap smears for cervical cancer, prenatal care, bone-mass measurements for osteoporosis. The exam will also include gender-neutral screenings and services such as colon cancer screening, obesity screening and counseling, and shots to prevent flu, tetanus and pneumonia.

The American Heart Association estimates that 80 percent of all cardiovascular disease may be preventable; it’s always better to prevent heart disease than treat it after it becomes life threatening.

Women who consider themselves healthy often misdiagnose the symptoms of a heart attack because they don’t think it could happen to them. The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women versus men, and are often misunderstood.  The following symptoms are signs of a heart attack:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. But it’s important to note that women are more likely to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

In case of a heart attack, dial 911 and follow the operator’s instructions.  Do not wait and call a friend or drive yourself to the hospital.

For more information about women and heart disease, see

Graphic thanks to

schustersmNancy Schuster is a Frontier Extension District family and consumer science agent whose responsibilities include providing information about food safety, nutrition, food science and food preparation. She is based in the Garnett office of the Frontier Extension District and can be reached at 785-448-6826 or email [email protected].

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