Though we women play a critical role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of our families, when it comes to our own health, we tend to overlook it. It’s almost like women are invisible to themselves. We take care of everyone else first, and ourselves, last. Women have been taught since childhood to put others before themselves, and are likely juggling many things between work and family and societal needs and have no time or they may be in unequal power relationships.
Preserving the health of women is a well understood developmental need. When it comes to addressing women’s health at large, it mostly covers maternal mortality and reproductive health. What is poorly appreciated is that heart disease is the number one cause of death for women globally. It’s not breast cancer, or cervical cancer or other traditionally women-related diseases. A woman’s lifetime risk of dying from heart disease is eight times greater than from breast cancer.
India accounts for one-fifth of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) worldwide especially in the younger population (WHO). Mortality rates due to CVD in India are much higher than the global average. Ischemic Heart Disease affects both men and women but is increasing more rapidly among women than men. Other than high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, low consumption of fruits and veggies, smoking and alcohol which are common risk factors for both men and women, there are other factors affecting only women like PCOS, breast cancer therapy, gestational diabetes, use of oral contraceptives, post-menopausal hormone therapy and even stressors like neglect and isolation that multiply the risk of heart diseases.
Another point of concern is that symptoms of heart conditions are different in women than in men. Heart disease is serious in itself, but it often leads to stroke with devastating effects on quality of life, even if one survives. Signs and symptoms of heart disease and stroke are often ignored and passed off as just tiredness. If a woman experiences extreme fatigue, breathlessness, blurry vision, upper abdominal pain, light-headedness, she should go see a doctor.
Let us learn about how heart attacks and strokes manifest in women and men, what are the signs and symptoms, how we can save lives, even as bystanders through CPR. The American Heart Association has a wealth of information for all of us. Take a moment to read and share the list with the women in your life, to help them become stronger and healthier:
Be aware of the risk factors leading to Noncommunicable diseases, NCDs.
Know your family history.
Know your numbers: Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, Sugar Levels.
Watch your weight (act to reduce weight if overweight or obese)
Tame your stress levels through stress management techniques (yoga, meditation, reading, deep breathing)
Eat a healthy balanced diet. Include more fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts.
Quit smoking and avoid alcohol.
Take enough rest. Have a regular sleep pattern of 7-8 hours.
Listen to your body. If something isn’t right, talk to a doctor.
Spend time with people who make you happy.
Learn to relax. Your body houses your mind and spirit.
Put yourselves higher on your own ‘to do’ list.
Heart disease isn’t inevitable, it is preventable. We know from compelling clinical studies that 80% of heart disease can be prevented with three lifestyle changes – eating right, exercising and avoiding tobacco (WHO). Prevention through healthy living is at the core of all our work.
(The writer is the founder & CEO of Arogya World.)
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