Preventing Heart Disease in Women

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Heart disease is a leading killer of women, but there are things you can do to protect your heart. Just in time for National Woman's Heart Day, Lori Mosca, MD, chief medical advisor for the Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation, told us on Feb.17 what you can do now to prevent heart disease.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Mosca. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death for women in the U.S. But there seems to still linger the perception that heart disease is a man's disease. What can we do to raise awareness among our sisters to the dangers of heart disease in women?

It's important that every woman know that heart disease is her leading killer and each year more women die of cardiovascular disease than men. Programs like this educate women about their true risk and what they can do to lower it can go a long way in helping to reduce this.

It's particularly important that all women know their specific risk factors for heart disease, because general awareness is not enough. Women need to know what their blood pressure level is, what their cholesterol numbers are, both the good and the bad, and they need to know what they should be. For example:

  • The optimal blood pressure for women should be less than 120 over 80
  • The optimal LDL or bad cholesterol should be less than 100
  • The optimal HDL or good cholesterol should be greater than 50
  • The triglycerides should be less than 150

In addition, they should know their blood sugar should be less than 100; and their waist circumference should be less than 35. One more thing, the body mass index, which is a ratio of the weight over the height squared, should be between 18.5 and 24.9.

Many women do not know their specific numbers, but they can find them out tomorrow (February 18, 2005) on National Women's Heart Day at one of 12 major cities across the United States, sponsored by the Sister to Sister Everyone Has a Heart Foundation. The best news is that the screening is completely free and you get your results on the spot. You can also get education from health care providers and experts across the country.

If a woman is unable to attend the free health fair, then she should be sure the next time she goes to her doctor that she learns her numbers: what they should be and how best to get there.

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How do I know, as a layman, that when I see my doctor for my annual check up that he/she will order ALL the lab tests I need? This would be not just for my heart but also for my whole body, correct?

The best thing to do is to ask your doctor directly what he or she recommends for your annual preventive health evaluation. If you are not sure what specific questions to ask or what might be included in such an exam, you can visit the New York Presbyterian Hospital Preventive Cardiology web site at and download recommendations for a preventive screening exam. Take this form to your doctor and ask what your numbers are and if you need to be screened for any of the conditions on the list. Don't be shy about asking your doctor about preventive health care. Most doctors enjoy discussing health as much as they do treating disease. They appreciate it when a patient wants to take better care of him/herself. Remember, you have an important partnership with your doctor.

If a woman experiences heart palpitations but no chest pain, should she be concerned?

Sometimes palpitations are benign and sometimes may need further evaluation. If you are experiencing palpitations, it's important to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes and make a follow-up appointment with your doctor if they do not subside. If you experience palpitations when you are exerting yourself, it is especially important to seek medical evaluation. This could be an indication of a problem with your heart rhythm or sometimes it can be an indication of coronary artery disease. However, most times palpitations are benign and nothing to worry about and can be controlled with simple lifestyle techniques. But you should never assume this and make sure that you've talked to your doctor.

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