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Heart Disease: What to Know

Posted on Jun 2, 2015

HeartHealth1 (1)

Despite its prevalence in our society, heart disease myths persist. One of the biggest heart disease myths is that it strikes only men and older adults. In fact, heart disease is also the No. 1 killer of women and it’s more deadly for women than all kinds of cancer combined.

Yet, “it’s been drilled into our culture that heart disease is a male disease,” Tania Nanevicz, M.D.,  a cardiologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation says. “So women themselves don’t always recognize what’s happening.”

Because women can have atypical heart attack symptoms that differ from the often-promoted symptoms that men experience, women may not realize they are having a heart attack. And studies have shown that medical providers are less likely to diagnose heart attacks in women because symptoms like shortness of breath and severe fatigue can be similar to many other diseases.

But there is some good news when it comes to heart disease for both men and women. “It’s estimated that more than 50 percent of heart attacks could have been prevented with lifestyle modifications,” Dr. Nanevicz says.

Are You At Risk?

The best way to prevent a heart attack is to have your risk assessed early. Seven main factors increase your risk:

  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Being overweight
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

Take Action

While there are many treatments available for heart disease, Dr. Nanevicz says, “I take time to talk to my patients about things they can do to improve their health without medications.”

What works is simple:

  • Eat healthy food
  • Exercise regularly, at least five days a week for 30 minutes
  • Get your weight under control and stay within a healthy body mass index

Treatments

But if you do end up needing treatment for heart disease, the advancements in the field have made a significant difference in recovery times and outcomes.

“We’ve made so many advances in care, from replacing a valve without needing to make an incision to opening completely blocked arteries. The treatments can really make a difference,” Dr. Nanevicz says. “But I always stress to my patients that the best long-term strategy, even after a procedure, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

See more heart disease facts on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

NaneviczT_2010Tania Nanevicz, M.D.,  is a cardiologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.