Sunday, December 12, 2010

PT Perspective: Heart Disease in Women - Overshadowed and Understated|

It’s good to be informed. As PTs, I’d add that it’s our responsibility to inform ourselves then to pass on the information to patients. I’ve come across many women, patients, and co-workers who recognize the dangers of breast cancer and the necessity of research to cure it.

Clearly, breast cancer is serious business and the stats are grim. The lifetime prevalence: 1 in 8; number of deaths per year: 40,000.
But consider this. Lung cancer claims 70,000 women a year which is more than breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined. Of those diagnosed with lung cancer, only 1 in 8 survives.  The public consciousness seems misinformed on this.

Heart disease is another poorly understood killer. Every year, heart disease claims the lives of 500,000 women. That’s 1000% more deaths than breast cancer. People seem to think breast cancer is the biggest monster out there gobbling up women’s lives while the real boogey man disease lives in virtual anonymity.

Why does this happen? Why would such a big problem get such short shrift? Part of the problem is the stereotype that only type A men get heart attacks.  The fact is heart disease doesn’t dabble in gender politics. Whether you’re from Venus or Mars, the odds are pretty even.
If you’re a woman, your sirens should be ringing (blaring stridently; in fact), particularly if you have a family history, like to wash down your corn-fed Angus cuts with a keg of beer, and exercise by walking from the couch to the kitchen during commercial breaks. If this describes you or your patients, beware, but don’t despair.

Giving up leads to paralysis and paralysis doesn’t help. What does help is information (keeping in mind that the step after information is informed action).  Unlike breast cancer which is largely genetic and difficult to prevent (if such as word even applies), heart disease responds to the following life-saving changes:

  • Smoking cessation
  • A well-balanced diet, low in saturated and trans fat
  • Regular exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Stress reduction
  • Social support
  • Decreased alcohol consumption 
Those who campaign against breast cancer do a wonderful job of raising awareness about a terrible disease. We should applaud these efforts and replicate them with heart disease, spreading the word the way rumors spread in the girl’s middle school bathrooms across America.  First whispered conspiratorially, the message gets passed on via three very simple words: “Pass it on!”


Any questions, please drop me a line.

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