World Health Day: Reasons why women need to improve their heart health during COVID-19 pandemic
As opposed to the myth that women are less susceptible to heart disease as compared to men, it is in fact post-menopausal, diabetic, overweight women who face same if not higher risk than men
By Dr Tilak Suvarna, Senior Interventional Cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai
The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc in everyone’s lives around the globe, not sparing the elderly and the young, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, urban and rural. However, equivocally it is the women who have borne the brunt.
With most households refraining from calling house help home, it is the women who are burdened with the additional workload. Additionally, children being at home due to online schooling doesn’t help. Also, the working woman has the extra responsibility of managing her work from home.
Compounding this is the inability to find time as well as place for her regular exercise, with parks and gyms being out of bounds, which is so important to combat heart disease. All of this causes both physical and mental stress leading to anxiety, frustration and depression, which can compromise her heart health and increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
It is a myth that women are less susceptible to heart disease as compared to men. In fact, post-menopausal, diabetic, overweight women have the same if not higher risk than men.
Women around the world continue to be under diagnosed and under treated, with respect to heart disorders. Heart disease symptoms in women are less pronounced and more often atypical like sudden onset of extreme weakness or light-headedness or shortness of breath. Many women don’t even experience chest pain as a symptom. This leads to delayed or missed diagnosis of a heart attack and consequently delayed treatment, which results in poor outcomes of heart disease in women.
It is crucial to ensure the health and safety of women living with or at risk of heart disease and who are particularly vulnerable during this public health crisis.
There are several things that women can do to take care of their heart during the pandemic:
1. Know your numbers
You should know your ideal body weight and blood pressure as well as your sugar and cholesterol values, as these are major risk factors for heart disease. If your levels are abnormal, then you must take appropriate measures to bring them down to normal.
2. It is very important to take out time for physical activity or exercise which is a key ingredient of therapeutic lifestyle changes that are essential to prevent and to combat heart disease. Simple brisk walking for 30-45 minutes at least 5 days a week is good enough. Other options include running, jogging, swimming, dancing.
3. Have a heart-healthy diet
A heart-healthy diet that includes a low-fat and low-salt diet, liberal amounts of fibre, vegetables and fruits, avoids saturated fats, sugary items, processed food and red meat, will go a long way in preventing heart disease.
4. Lose weight
Obesity is a major risk factor. Any woman whose body-mass index is more than 25 or whose waist circumference is more than 35 inches has an increased risk of heart disease. Regular exercise and strict diet control will help in reducing and maintaining your body weight.
5. Avoid smoking
Alarmingly, the prevalence of smoking in women is increasing. And being confined indoors and stress makes one susceptible to the urge of reaching out for the cigarette. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by 4 times. E-cigarettes are equally bad if not worse.
6. Stress management and yoga
The importance of stress as a risk factor for heart attack during this pandemic cannot be but overemphasized. But it is how you manage your stress that influences your susceptibility to heart disease. Yoga and meditation can be very useful in coping with stress.
7. Know the symptoms and signs of heart attack
You should be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack like chest pain or heaviness or constriction, shortness of breath, perspiration or cold-sweat, light-headedness, nausea or vomiting, pain radiating to shoulders or arms or jaw or back. There is no harm in getting an ECG done to confirm or rule out a cardiac cause.
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