Skip to main content

Davis Journal

Catch cardiovascular disease before it breaks your heart

Feb 15, 2024 09:23AM ● By Becky Ginos

BOUNTIFUL—Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women in the United States.  

February is American Heart Month and while people might be thinking about their Valentine, they should also be thinking about their health.

“About half of those women don’t even recognize that it’s the number one killer,” said Marilyn Mariani, Chief Nursing Officer at Lakeview Hospital. “Females tend to be the caregivers so they don’t always take care of their own needs.”

Women might not have the same symptoms as men, she said. “It can be pain in the back, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness. It could be up to a month before a massive heart attack so get in and get checked out.”

Changes to a woman’s body throughout life can add to her risk of heart disease, Mariani said. “Things like pregnancy and menopause can cause a higher risk. Go to the doctor, if you’re smoking – quit. Women who smoke are at a 50% higher risk.”

Exercise 150 minutes a week, she said. “Some of that should be weight lifting or some type of strength exercise. Add color to your plate for a good diet. Don’t eat tons and tons of carbs and avoid fried foods. Cooking at home is better because you can figure that out for yourself.”

Don’t overeat, Mariani said. “Have the right portion you need. Most people don’t realize how the amount of sleep you get makes a difference. If you get below seven to eight hours of sleep it increases the risk of cardiac disease by 6%. Anything over eight hours increases it to 12%.”

Mariani has had her own experience with heart disease. “Both of my parents had heart attacks,” she said. “With my dad’s it was hereditary and I had the same problem and had to have a cardiac ablation to fix the issue.”

Women are not the best at looking for symptoms, said Mariani. “A cardiac ablation goes inside the heart to find the electricity that is causing it to not work correctly and get rid of the area that’s telling it not to do the right thing. Mine was only beating about half the time.”

Cardiac catheterization is another procedure used to open blocked arteries, she said. “It thins out the inside of arteries so you don’t have a heart attack. The thickening is caused by a buildup of plaque. Plaque buildup is caused by not eating healthy and not exercising.”

There are hereditary factors too, she said. “Control your blood pressure and high cholesterol. Go to the doctor so you can keep it under control. Many people can get rid of their medication by doing the right things.”

Lakeview has a cardiac rehab program, said Mariani. “It helps patients manage exercise and diet so they can reach the optimal level of cardiac function and strengthens the heart muscle so that it doesn’t have to work more. The heart really is a muscle.”

Exercise and diet are also good for stress, she said. “Increased stress increases the risk for a heart attack in women. Getting time for exercise is hard for women because they’re always running kids around and not getting enough ‘you’ time.”

Mariani said 45% of women over 20 are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. “They’re just not catching it.”