Healthy Focus

New Ways for Women to Beat Cardiac Disease

Fifteen years ago, only one-third of U.S. women realized that heart disease was their No. 1 killer. While the risk is better understood today, many women still don’t act on their knowledge. Some are in denial about their risk factors, while others fall into the habit of taking better care of loved ones than of themselves.

Cindy Norman, NP
Saint Thomas Heart Group

“That’s unfortunate because after a heart attack, the long-term survival prospect is as good as or even better for women than for men, as long as they get appropriate treatment,” says Cindy Norman, NP, of Saint Thomas Heart Group.

By understanding that heart health is just as important for you as it is for the men in your life, you can take steps to reduce your risk of cardiac disease. And being familiar with heart symptoms specific to women will allow you to identify and get them treated earlier.

Gender differences

To begin with, heart disease can take different forms in men and women. “Diastolic heart failure [a decline in the performance of one or both ventricles, which pump blood] is more common to women,” says Norman, who practices at Saint Thomas’s clinic at Henry County Medical Center. “This is different in men, where the leading cause is ischemic heart disease [clogged arteries].”

Symptoms of cardiac problems also can be different for each gender, says Norman. “Men tend to present with the classic symptoms of chest pain or some kind of central chest discomfort,” she says. “Women can also experience chest pain but might just have extreme weakness or fatigue,” along with nausea and shortness of breath.

Norman adds that there is also a gender split in what triggers a heart attack. “For men, that trigger is predominantly physical activity, exercise,” she says. “In women, it’s also emotional provocation—anger or fear.”

And this creates another challenge for women, says Norman. “If the symptoms are activity-triggered, [when the activity stops] the demand on the heart stops, and symptoms go away,” she says. “When it is emotionally triggered, you can’t turn off that stimulus as promptly, so the symptoms tend to persist longer. Since physical activity is under control and emotions aren’t, this explains why women tend to have more severe symptoms and to report more impairment to quality of life with heart disease.”

Risk factors

Despite some gender differences in the symptoms and types of heart disease, most risk factors are shared. Your individual risk is more dependent on your genetics, habits and lifestyle decisions than it is on your gender:

  • age 45 or older
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • untreated diabetes
  • smoking
  • obesity and a sedentary lifestyle
  • family history of heart disease

While this list is the same for men and women, there are important differences, says Norman

“Some of the factors are more serious for women,” she says. “For instance, diabetes is more predictive of heart disease for women than for men. And smoking elevates the risk more for women. The good news is that the risk from smoking decreases dramatically within two or three years of quitting.”

In addition, women are generally more susceptible to stress, further amplifying their risk, says Norman.

Regular, age-appropriate screenings can help you combat your risk factors, along with eliminating the risks over which you have control: quitting smoking, seeking treatment for diabetes and hypertension, and regularly exercising and watching your diet. The American Heart Association recommends that women as young as 20 be screened for cardiovascular disease, with follow-up screening frequency based on your individual risk factors.

Danger signs

If you experience any of the following symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately:

Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest

Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw or stomach

Shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort)

Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

Source: American Heart Association


The Latest Treatment Advances for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease

Both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease are progressive neurological conditions that profoundly affect not only the patient but the circle of people who love him or her.

Because each of these conditions can be treated but not cured, early diagnosis is essential. Here’s a guide to the newest ways of identifying and coping with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by cognitive function impairment that makes it difficult or impossible to perform daily tasks, says Dr. Gerard Monette, Psychiatrist at Lake Haven Behavioral Center. To diagnose the disease, he examines the patient’s medical history and conducts a physical, then considers potential secondary causes of the patient’s symptoms, such as dementia or memory impairment.

Gerard Monette, Psychiatrist
Lake Haven Behavioral Center

The next step is an MRI and/or CT scan of the head to look for structural abnormalities, strokes, tumors or fluid buildup, followed by lab studies targeting problems related to abnormal vitamin or electrolyte levels, which can affect cognition and memory.

“If there is an abnormality, I treat that and see if they improve,” says Dr. Monette. “If they don’t, the next step is to consider formal neuropsychological testing, which looks to see if the patient’s forgetfulness is in proportion to aging. If it is out of proportion, we make a diagnosis and segue into treatment.”

Parkinson’s disease symptoms

Physicians diagnose Parkinson’s disease, on the other hand, primarily by assessing symptoms and conducting an exam, says Dr. Monette. Parkinson’s disease is predominantly a motor disorder characterized by tremor, rigidity and slowness or difficulty moving. The tremor occurs when the body is at rest rather than in movement, and Dr. Monette also looks for loss of facial expressions and a decrease in arm strength or stride length on one side of the body.

He then conducts tests, including an MRI, to look for signs of stroke and to rule out other conditions.

“There is also a nuclear medical scan called a DaTscan,” says Dr. Monette. “The patient is injected with a nuclear compound that tags dopamine nerve cells in the brain. Patients with Parkinson’s lose dopamine cells, so this measures the dopamine cells in the brain and compares them to the normal population. While we don’t use this as a purely diagnostic tool, it helps support our clinical diagnoses.”

Alzheimer’s therapy options

No medications are known to cure Alzheimer’s, says Dr. Monette, but some drugs may help lessen the symptoms of memory loss or confusion and maintain certain functional activities. The benefits and the duration of those benefits, however, vary greatly among patients.

Physicians usually pair medication with other treatment, such as physical or occupational therapy, or daily activity routines for memory-impaired patients.

“Because Alzheimer’s is progressive, despite current medical treatment, the physician, patient and caregiver should discuss advanced directives on an ongoing basis to best establish the individual’s wishes [for end of life care],” says Dr. Monette.

Parkinson’s medications

Parkinson’s medications are designed to increase dopamine activity to improve motor function, says Dr. Monette. However, the medications become less effective with time.

“In this case, deep brain stimulation is sometimes useful,” says Dr. Monette. “This involves implanting electrodes in areas of the brain that produce electrical impulses to regulate abnormal impulses. The electrodes are controlled from a pacemaker-like device implanted in the chest.”

Research studies with clinical trials are also an option for Parkinson’s patients who have progressed or who have not responded to treatment, he says.

Tips for caregivers

Close friends and loved ones are often the main caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, which can be both rewarding and exhausting. Here are some tips to make  things easier for both of you:

  • Help the person maintain a daily routine and a regular sleep schedule.
  • Memory issues can be frustrating for everyone, so assist with medical management and alleviating stress to help improve forgetfulness.
  • Understand the progression of the disease and plan emotionally, financially and physically for the future. It’s better to put a plan in place for the worst-case scenario than to have to make critical decisions at a highly stressful moment. While it may be difficult, speak to your loved one about his or her desires for end of life and power of attorney while symptoms are mild, and the person can participate in these decisions.
  • Seek support groups and maintain your own health. Caregivers are at risk of depression and should take care of themselves through exercise, diet and stress management. For information and resources on support groups, check with your state or county agencies on aging, the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (pdf.org).

Carrot Ginger Soup

Carrots are rich in fiber and beto-carotene, and have been linked to lower cholesterol levels and improved eye heath. Ginger can help relieve nausea, motion sickness, and pain.

Ingredients:

13 carrots peeled
1 large white onion
1.5 oz fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic
4 cups vegetable stock
½ cup white wine

Directions:
Dice carrots and onion and place in large pot. Peel and rough chop ginger and carrot and place in it pot.  Add cold wine and vegetable stock and bring all ingredients to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes and allow to cool for 10 min.  Place all ingredients in blender and blend smooth. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool overnight to allow flavors to fully develop. Season with kosher salt to taste. Yields 48 ounces.