Heart disease should be a key concern

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Most women seem more concerned about the possibility of dying from breast cancer than heart disease. But heart disease kills nearly eight times more women in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there is a report of a study looking at sudden cardiac death (SCD) in women, most cases due to hardening of the arteries to the heart.

In the article SCD is defined as death that occurs within 1 hour of the first symptom in people who have no history of heart disease.

For many years it has been recognized that there are various things that can cause hardening of the heart arteries or arteriosclerosis thus causing heart attacks. The big three, if we can use that term, are smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The JAMA article points out that up to 80 percent of cases could be due to unhealthy lifestyle practices. They found that women who adhered to four healthy lifestyle practices had a 92 percent lower risk of SCD than those who did not follow those practices.

And what are the practices they identified?

1. No smoking.

2. A healthy weight which they identified as a BMI (Body Mass Index) of less than 25.

3. Regular exercise of 30 minutes or longer per day.

4. Eating a Mediterranean diet.

Many doctors offices have BMI charts available. Or you can check at www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi. The latest Consumers Report states that if a man has a waist greater than 40 inches or a woman's waist is greater than 35 inches, their BMI is too high.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish and moderate use of alcohol.

In a discussion of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), one of the distressing things is that the majority of these events occur in people who are apparently healthy and would not be considered at high risk. The survival rate is only about 7 percent.

It should be noted that the study in JAMA came from 81,772 women from the U.S. Nurses Health Study over a 26-year period. During that time there were 321 cases of SCD. That is an average of a little over 12 deaths per year. That may seem like a small number but it seems to me that the question is why die a premature death if you can prevent it?

As a final note some folks will recall that a prior article mentioned that using magnesium tablets can also decrease the chance of SCD.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.

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