As moms, it can seem like we’re always taking care of someone else – children, a partner, aging family members, even pets. As a result, we might put off our yearly physical, or brush it off if we’re not feeling well. But not taking steps to prevent heart disease or recognize a heart attack if and when it happens can lead to deadly consequences. Maria Pavlis, MD, BEngSci, Yale Medicine cardiologist at Greenwich Hospital and an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, says stress, especially for moms during the pandemic, is a huge issue.
“It is so important for moms to reduce stress in a healthy manner – most importantly through exercise (versus more wine). Kids are home, families feel confined, and many have resorted to increased eating, drinking and screen time. Exercise is the best way to reduce stress,” she says. “Good sleep habits and family dinners together, board games and less, less media. Try family jigsaw puzzles, not social media/news,” suggests Dr. Pavlis.
February is American Heart Month, and it’s the perfect time to show some love to your heart. Here’s more from Dr. Pavlis and the other experts at Yale Medicine about what moms should know about Heart Health.
Realize The Pandemic Has Been Really Rough for Heart Health
Working remotely, skipping the gym and just getting less steps overall as we spend more time at home has been hard for our hearts. It has also contributed to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and weight gain (read: eating your feelings).
Lowering Your Risk Can Start Today
Preventing heart disease is pretty clearcut – all the things that help us feel good (eat well, exercise, etc) will keep our heart strong. As busy moms, it’s too easy to put yourself on the back burner. If you need to, take those shortcuts (for instance, grabbing precut vegetables or fruit from the grocery store, or downloading an app to help you exercise instead of trying to get to a gym). And please—when you’re making all those doctor appointments for your kids, don’t forget to make yours.
- Don’t smoke
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a Healthy Diet
- Exercise regularly
- Work with your provider to prevent or treat other health problems like high blood pressure,high cholesterol and diabetes.
Understand That A Heart Attack May Look Different in Women
While most men and women typically experience chest tightness or shortness of breath, sweating, weakness with a heart attack, some women and men might not recognize gastrointestinal symptoms as a symptom of heart attack. Nausea, reflux may be the presenting symptom of a heart attack which many would have otherwise attributed to gastroenteritis or GERD. If you have a stomach ache that doesn’t go away? Don’t ignore it.
Know Hormones May Play a Role in Heart Attack Risk for Women
As we get older, getting serious about heart health is more important than ever. In the pre-menopausal years, estrogen is protective of the heart—estrogen relaxes the arteries and promotes good cholesterol. In the peri-menopausal years, however, as estrogen declines, there is an emergence of cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol and hypertension, including in women who previously had normal or even low cholesterol and blood pressure numbers. The incidence of heart disease in women starts going up around age 65—about 10 years later than in men, likely due to the protective effects of estrogen. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and the risks of hormone replacement therapy.
Remember to Take Care of Your Stress
“As a pediatric cardiologist, I know the care and love that parents invest into looking out for their children,” says Dr. Robert Elder, a pediatric cardiologist with Yale Medicine and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, which can be especially intense when the child has a medical condition. “One of my jobs, in addition to taking good care of the child, is to help the family find ways to understand what is going on to deal with their own stress so they can be a resource for the child,” he says.
Find a Doctor You Can Talk to Can Save Your Life
Taking the time to find a knowledgeable doctor who you feel comfortable talking to, and will take the time to truly understand your concerns and what your lifestyle looks like (so they can assess risks) can be life-saving. This personal approach may require seeking out a second opinion, finding a new doctor or seeing a specialist. Your heart disease risk, and treatment, could be related to anything from diet to activity level to pregnancy-related like preeclampsia. Is your doctor asking these questions? If not, seek out someone who will.
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This post is sponsored by Yale Medicine.