Heart health


This is the start of a national men s Heart Health Initiative sponsored by the American Heart Association. The initiative is a campaign to alert women and identify the need for more education. The following interview features Ms. Charlotte Libov, author of The Women's Heart Book and 50 Essential Things To Do If The Doctor Says It's Heart Disease.

Q. Charlotte Libov, how did you get interested in this heart health subject?

A. Personally, I never thought I had anything wrong with my heart. When my own doctor suddenly announced that I had a heart problem, I was shocked. As a reporter who writes on health problems of others, I was unprepared and couldn't even formulate questions for the doctor.

Q. Why the recent emphasis on women and heart disease?

A. The subject began getting more attention in the latter part of the 1980s. One reason is there are now more women doctors, more medical professions and more women taking an active role in the work place. At a medical conference in 1987 there came a hue and cry for more heart research. We conducted a survey that showed one out of three primary care physicians did not believe heart disease was a leading cause of death in women. Actually it is the biggest killer of women since the year 1908.

We are now hearing that women with heart problems are more visible in the work place and these problems are caused by stress and responsibility.

Q. We realize that stress is a factor. Are there other causes?

A. The answer seems to be a function of estrogen and hormones. Thereis a 10- to 15-year span where women are protected from not only heart disease but also high blood pressure (except Afro-Americans). Women seem to be relatively protected from stroke. This we don't understand.

One cause is that women began inhaling cigarettes and became one-to two-pack-a-day smokers. Not smoking is one of the best things a woman can do for her heart. If young women take birth control pills and smoke, they raise their risk of a heart attack sharply.

Q. Compare heart disease and cancer health dangers.

A. I don't like to pit one disease against another. But some things that are good for your heart are also items to combat cancer. Lung cancer is the biggest killer and most women don't recognize it. Lung cancer kills more women than breast cancer and smoking is certainly pivotal to both. There are some cancers that will improve with diet, such as colon cancer. So a low-fat diet would also be good for your heart. A heart healthy lifestyle just might prevent many forms of cancer as well. Heart disease has declined in men, but not women. We have statistics to show that even though people do some exercise and eat low-fat, we are still a lazier, fatter group of Americans than we have ever been.

Q. What's the answer to reverse the trend?

A. It's really important on a one-to-one level for women to start paying attention to their heart so that when something happens they can be prepared. The symptoms of an attack can be different in a woman than a man. They are more subtle. She might experience nausea, fatigue or shortness of breath. Knowing the signs might save women's lives. Women should have a cardiac profusion imaging test as well as a treadmill stress test. The general deadline for tests is when a woman reaches menopause.

Q. You wrote a book, 50 Things To Do If The Doctor Says You Have Heart Disease. We don't have space for all, but give the important ones?

A. Number one is to stop smoking, followed by moderate exercise. Other suggestions that are important: personal satisfaction goals, such as keeping a sense of humor, and getting enjoyment out of life, which includes volunteer work. Heart patients who are depressed don't live as long. There are some positive aspects to having a heart attack (believe it or not). Many people are far healthier afterwards. I often hear such remarks as, "If I had only done this 20 years earlier, I would have been so much better and enjoyed life more."

Q. In conclusion, remind the readers what the Heart Health Initiative will involve for the rest of the year and through 1996.

A. American Heart Association sponsored workshops will take place in Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and other large cities. In the meantime, Total Health readers can ask for the free packet for women. It includes a Heart Health Record, information on diagnostic tests and warning signs, plus questions to ask your doctor. Call 1-800-866-0400 and there's no charge.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Ms. Charlotte Libov


By Robert L. Smith

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