The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

October 20, 2013

Speaking of Health: Preventative measures can help women avoid the most serious illnesses

What are the top women’s health risks in this country? Heart disease, stroke and cancer are the three biggest threats and the top causes of death among adult women in the U.S. While family history does play a factor, there are preventive measures women can take to reduce their risk of some of these chronic conditions.

There are certain lifestyle changes women can make to reduce their risk:

• Stop smoking

• Eat a healthy diet

• Maintain a healthy weight

• Be physically active

• Limit alcohol intake

• Manage stress

• Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women, claiming more women’s lives than all forms of cancer combined. A common misconception is that heart disease is primarily a problem for men, but more women than men die of heart disease every year. If you’re aware of the symptoms and risks that are unique to women and you eat a heart-healthy diet (low fat, cholesterol and salt) and regularly exercise, you will be better protected.

Women who have heart attacks often experience different symptoms than men. Women of all ages are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:

• Pain in the shoulder, back, neck, jaw, ear or stomach

• Profound nausea

• Fatigue

• Shortness of breath

• Unusual heartburn

• Sudden lightheadedness

• Sweating

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or think you’re having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately.

For many women, breast health tops the list of health concerns. I recommend women begin annual mammogram exams starting at age 40. Women should also perform regular self-exams and be “breast aware.” You should be familiar with the normal consistency of your breasts and the underlying tissue. About 40 percent of breast cancers are discovered as a result of self-exams. See your provider if you discover:

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