By

Sandra Chaloux

| 02/27/2017

Healthy Heart, Healthy You (Women)– Part 1

Healthy Heart, Healthy You (Women)– Part 1

I recently attended the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Healthy Heart, Healthy You panel discussion that focused on Women and Heart Health. This session blew me away –not your usual boring heart health talk. So much good information shared that I feel compelled to pass it along. The underlying message echoed by the panelists is to pay attention to your body’s signs, and the importance of self care and managing stress for your health. This is the first of a few articles that we will share from this panel discussion. If you are a hard-driving, crazy busy, accomplished, highly stressed person …or love someone who is, this is a must read…

First, the scary statistics:

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women.

Each year, 55,000 more women than men will have a stroke.

Each year, 1 in 3 deaths in women (or 1 women in every 80 seconds) are caused by cardiovascular disease or stroke.

Shondra Jones, a registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist with 25 years of experience in Interventional Cardiology with Inova Heart & Vascular Institute, kicked off the discussion by explaining stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular diseases and their warning signs. In her role, Shondra works directly with angioplasty, stints, and electrophysiology procedures.

Shondra said that she sees a lot of women who are having heart issues every day –heart attack, acute coronary syndrome, or some kind of electrical problem.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack is when an area of your heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen or blood –typically from the coronary arteries that lay on the heart muscle and feed the heart. There’s a blockage in the coronary artery and then that area of the heart is not getting enough oxygen or blood to stay alive.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is like having a heart attack in your brain. It’s one of two types. An Ischemic stroke, where there’s a plaque or clot that blocks the artery causing damage to the brain. Hemorrhagic meaning the blood vessel could burst and bleed into your brain. The most common that people hear about is TIAs or Transient Ischemic Attacks. This is when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced, often by a blood clot but after a short time, blood flows again and the symptoms go away. These types of attacks are warning signs that you could be heading toward a full-blown stroke –which is when the blood flow stays blocked (or bleeding), and the brain has permanent damage.

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest like what Carrie Fisher had is more of an electrical problem. That means there’s an area of the heart muscle that is short-circuiting for a lack of a better term, the heart stops or fibrillates. That is when you see a person gets shocked out of that rhythm.

A heart attack can cause an arrhythmia or cardiac arrest.

Dr. Suzanne Nixon, an energy medicine practitioner and the moderator of the panel, pointed out that the heart actually has 60,000 times more electrical pulse than the brain. She also pointed out that 80% of heart disease and stroke can be prevented by lifestyle behaviors and nutritional and dietary choices.

Nutrition & Dietary Recommendations

Stephanie Duff, a registered dietician and school nutritionist for Loudoun County Public Schools, pointed out that fruits and vegetables contain soluble fiber. Many think that fiber is more about improving digestion but it is also important for heart health. Stephanie said that bad cholesterol or the LDL attaches itself to the fiber we’re consuming and eliminated. You can lower your bad cholesterol by eating more fiber. Fiber also helps to satisfy your hunger and to feel full longer. The vitamins and minerals in vegetables play a huge role in heart health and diabetes prevention. Diabetes and heart disease go hand in hand. Stephanie recommended being more mindful of the integrity and quality of the food that you’re eating. She suggested that when looking down on your plate, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Just this one thing will make a huge difference. Things like flax seeds and walnuts have monounsaturated fats and Omega-3 in them. Omega-3 is really helpful in lowering triglyceride levels. But be careful with portion sizes with nuts. A portion size for nuts is just what fits in the palm of your hand.

Personal Wake Up Call & Lessons Learned

Susan McCormick, is the founder of the Wellness Connection, an Integrative Therapy practice that was named 2016 service business of the year by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. Susan is a licensed marital family therapist and helps clients move towards a more healthy, balanced life. Susan said that she recently suffered a pulmonary embolism (a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs or, rarely, other parts of the body).

She said that the embarrassing part about this is that she is supposed to be the wellness lady.

She runs a wellness center and talks about integrated health, self-care and paying attention to your body all the time. She said she was being a hypocrite and acknowledged that owning a business is stressful and she reached a point where it all caught up to her.

Six months earlier she had contacted her doctor because she was feeling a bit of fatigue, sluggish and not feeling herself (energizer bunny). Her doctor gave her things to follow-up on but Susan didn’t because she got busy again and wasn’t paying attention. (I can relate to this!)

Then on a Monday, she felt an uncomfortable “stitch” in her left lung. Something was off. People were asking her if she felt O.K. She wasn’t her usual gregarious self. She left the event early and went home and tried to lay down but couldn’t. The sensation was so severe and started to permeate up her neck. Three days later and at the urging of her doctor, she went to the ER. Her lessons learned:

1. Control stress or it will control you, bottom line.

You might think you are above it, you run marathons, you eat healthy, and I did all of that; but my body was still saying “We’re tired.” She ignored the sign. Susan said that her pastor gave her great words of wisdom as she struggled with slowing down. “So much of stress is tied to worry.” Worry is often caused by looking in our rearview mirror –thinking about things we did wrong or we could’ve done better, or focusing on the future –like is my son ever going to graduate and get out of my house, ever? Instead, her pastor said that we’re given grace every day that should be used for solving the problems of the day. If you are wasting that grace looking backwards, you don’t have the fuel you need for the day. Same goes with using grace to solve problems that aren’t even in front of you yet, it prevents you from having the tools or energy to focus on the here and now.

2. Pay attention to your body. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Susan said her body was giving her every indication: chest pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal. Her body was screaming at her and she just ignored it. She also recommended paying attention to how you are thinking also. She said that when she is stressed, I’m saying to myself things like: “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not a good leader.” She said that “When I notice that my thoughts are in more of a negative pattern, I know to start taking care of myself and to slow down. I also pay attention to my emotions. If I am more unhappy than happy and more angry than grateful, I know I’m in trouble.” Then there are behaviors, “when I stop exercising, start eating poorly, when my sleep patterns are off, those are cues to me that I’m not taking care of myself.”

3. Learn to say “no”.

Everything that you say “Yes” to requires time and energy that you have to make up for later.

I have heard this last lesson of saying “No” echoed by a lot of successful women recently. Our next article from this heart health session will feature a 39-year old successful woman and mother of two in our community who has suffered 3 strokes. The third article will include the Questions & Answers from this session.

Check out our other blog posts from the Healthy Heart, Healthy You Panel Discussion:

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 1 (for women): The Statistics, Heart Conditions Explained, Nutrition & Dietary Recommendations, Successful Business Woman Wake Up Call Story & Lessons Learned

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 2: Story from a 3-time stroke survivor at age 39

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 3: How Emotions Affect Heart Health

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 4: Do you know the Signs of Heart Trouble in Women? Self-Care Tips & Preventative Tests

Healthy Heart, Healthy You – Part 5: Miscellaneous Q & A

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