By Kathy Discigil, RN, BSN; Electrophysiology Nurse Clinician
Note from Kathleen: I am blessed to have my long-time friend, medical professional and member of Team KAMS, Kathy Discigil, share her insights and expertise about women’s heart health. February is heart health month and February 5th is Go Red For Women Day. It is so important for everyone, but women specifically, to care for their beautiful, wonderful and life-sustaining hearts. Thank you Kath for acting as guest blogger today for KAMS Life Morning Coffee and Conversation.
What a privilege it is for me to contribute to KAMS Lifestyle – Morning Coffee and Conversation and share a bit of my heart with you.
The Human heart is a marvelous manifestation of an efficient and organized life sustaining machine. This organ pumps nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the brain, organs and all of the muscles in the body, including the heart itself. It is truly our life’s center, doing all the hard work to keep us alive and yet it is the organ we often take for granted. It doesn’t require instruction or reminders to do what it needs to do, but it does need our care and attention to keep it safe and us well.
Friday, February 5, 2021 is National Go Red For Women Day! It is the National Heart Association’s annual campaign to raise awareness about heart disease in women. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!
Some years back the medical community finally acknowledged that a woman’s heart is different from a man’s heart. Dr. Oz, a heart surgeon from New York, shared that when he held a woman’s heart in his hand, he noticed that it was smaller, softer and smoother than a man’s heart. Our symptoms of trouble are also different and we need to be aware of those. Women, and sometimes their doctors, dismiss the symptoms of heart disease because they are more subtle than the stereotypical grasping of your chest, or feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest.
Our vessels are smaller and are more prone to spasm then a man’s heart. We often feel our symptoms in our bellies (our second brain), like something is just not right. Sometimes we can wake up in the middle of the night with discomfort in between our shoulder blades. We can often assume our symptoms are simply fatigue or indigestion or we just don’t feel good for the moment.
Caring for yourself and your well-being is important. That begins with knowing your body and that can begin by knowing your numbers. Have a base line for and regularly monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. One or all three can be extremely telling, however, will more often than not, not present with any direct symptoms if off. Body Mass Index, or BMI is another number to know and be aware of. Understanding your body type and where you carry excess weight is also important.
I always encourage my patients to listen to their bodies and not ignore those subtle signs that something is askew. Seek out physicians who will listen to and respect your concerns and not dismiss signs as anxiety or stress. I actually took my own advice last month. I was feeling very nervous and anxious, and “short fused.” My crazy life has not changed, working full time in an outpatient cardiology clinic during COVID, CrossFit 5 days a week and all the other things that go on in life. I honestly thought I was going crazy. Life was finally getting to me! It finally dawned on me (medical professionals are the worst patients), maybe I should have my blood pressure checked!!! OMG…..170/100. I have had high blood pressure for 23 years and take medication and I still ignored my signs for a while. I am sharing this with you so that you pay attention to what your body is telling you. My primary care physician added another medication I now take in the evenings and I feel like a new person. I am not crazy; my body was telling me something! You are not crazy either.
What can we do to further care for our heart and our overall well-being? Take steps, or in Kathleen’s case, bounce toward a healthier lifestyle. This is not a diet or a one-time push to lose weight, it is a way of life….it is getting enough sleep – at least seven hours; it is moving your body more; be it walking, stair climbing, swimming – whatever you enjoy. The goal would be 150 minutes a week in total. As we age, strength training becomes more important to keep muscles and bones strong. Remember, your heart is a muscle…the most important muscle we have.
Nutrition is important as well. It is a simple concept but not always easy. I speak from personal experience here as I have struggled with weight issues my whole life. However, in the last ten years, I decided to take charge of my health. I weighed between 160-170 pounds and sugar and cabs were my crutch. For me, I carried that weight center belly and that is not good for my heart. I learned how to shop better by sticking to the perimeter of my grocery store and stuck to healthier food and portions. For me, it was starting slow and having one piece of chicken instead of two or three. Cutting my regular portions in half, learning about “good” fats and adding more vegetables to my daily intake made a huge difference for me. I limit my sugar but still treat myself when I need something sweet.
Planning out meals for the week works for some, like Kathleen does with her Simply Yum weekly preps. It’s ready to go and she doesn’t have to think about food as an issue but rather something to enjoy. Food is not the enemy; we just need to work with it. No need to deprive yourself, you simply want to “feed” yourself.
Finally, be sure to drink plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated. Is will keep your heart happy too.
When it comes to heart health, the best advice I can give you is trust yourself and your body. Learn more, be aware and take care. All of this is meant to motivate you, not scare you. With each beat of your beautiful heart, know she is taking care of you and needs you to take care of her. I encourage you to go to https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts to stay informed.
Do what your heart does….before she squeezes blood to the rest of the body, she feeds herself first!
Take care of YOU first!
May you be blessed with good health, much joy and many blessings.