MAYWOOD, Ill. - Women should not give up if they think the American Heart Association’s new heart guidelines for women seem unattainable, according to Loyola University Health System cardiologist Dr. Thriveni Sanagala.
“If 60 to 90 minutes of daily exercise is not possible, try 10- to 15-minute segments,” said Sanagala, assistant professor of medicine, division of cardiology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood. “Many women cannot imagine finding an extra 90 minutes every day for themselves.
“The most important thing is don’t disregard all the guidelines if you cannot meet a few,” she said. “The new guidelines are a very important challenge and well worth it.”
Sanagala urges women to make heart health a top priority. “To reduce their risk of heart attack, women should be as meticulous about checkups for their heart as they are about scheduling their Pap test or mammogram,” said Sanagala.
“Most women are so busy taking care of their families that they don’t take time for themselves. That can be detrimental.
“It is not selfish to go to the doctor and get your blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose and body mass index checked,” said Sanagala.
“Abnormal levels are risk factors for heart disease. Even borderline hypertension, cholesterol, obesity and diabetes are of concern because combined, the risk increases.”
Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent a heart attack or stroke.
Women vs. men
Sanagala noted that women’s heart disease may differ from men’s in terms of symptoms and intensity. Sometimes, symptoms come and go.
“Even more confusing is the fact that symptoms such as excessive sweating, nausea, pain of the shoulder, jaw or back are associated with other milder conditions and therefore often dismissed with the day’s busy schedule,” she said.
“Many times, women with heart disease describe symptoms that are vague,” said Sanagala.
“A lot of times, vague symptoms may not be serious. But sometimes, vague symptoms may be a clue to heart disease. Women may not feel an elephant on their chest, but they might be excessively tired for a few weeks. As a result, it is very important to listen to your body. Be vigilant about heart health.”
Regular checkups are important, too, because some signs of heart disease are asymptomatic. “A person may not feel high blood pressure,” she said. “A person may not feel dangerous cholesterol levels.”
Sanagala said that even depression could be a symptom of heart disease. She also recommends that women find out if there is a history of heart disease in their family.
“Don’t take your heart for granted,” she said. “Be proactive to reduce your heart disease risk. Reduce stress. Walk and exercise on a regular basis. Just joining a gym won’t help if you don’t work out.”
In addition to physical activity, nutrition is vital for a healthy heart. “Eat balanced meals with plenty of fruit, whole grains and vegetables,” said Sanagala. “Avoid fried foods. Do not smoke.”
Women who take, or who have taken hormone replacement therapy may need more frequent checkups and should be even more cautious about not smoking,” said Sanagala, noting that Loyola offers two smoking-cessation programs.
Women who have high blood pressure or even borderline hypertension need to ask their physician what their goal pressure should be.
Sanagala recommends that women with heart disease risk factors ask their physician if they need calcium scoring, a simple test that utilizes a 64-slice CT scan and shows calcium buildup in the heart, arteries and veins. “It’s not a routine screening for everyone, but for people who have risk factors, it is an additional tool,” she said, noting that microvascular disease often is not picked up by other tests.
“Stay active,” said Sanagala. “Don’t think you are being selfish by taking 'heart time' for yourself."
Sanagala practices at the Center for Heart and Vascular Medicine and the Loyola Outpatient Center (Women’s Health) on the Loyola University Medical Center campus, Maywood. She also sees patients at the Loyola Center for Health at Hickory Hills.
U.S. News & World Report has ranked Loyola as first in Illinois for heart care and heart surgery in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” issue. This is the fourth straight year that Loyola has claimed the state’s top spot for Heart Care and Heart Surgery.
To make an appointment with a Loyola physician call (888) LUHS-888.
For information on Loyola’s 12-week smoking-cessation program, which is available Friday afternoons, call (888) LUHS-888 and ask for extension 65093. For Loyola’s six-week “Quit for Good” program which meets Wednesday evenings, starting May 2, 2007, call (888) LUHS-888 and ask for extension 60585.
Visit www.loyolamedicine.org for more information on Loyola University Health System.