Women at higher risk for heart disease

Dr. Nick McQueen

“Prevent as much as we possibly can and treat as little as we have to,” Dr. Nick McQueen told those attending the Healthy Woman lunch program Jan. 3. “My goal is not to treat a problem but to prevent a problem.”

McQueen was keynote speaker at the monthly lunch program sponsored by Medical Center Enterprise. Cardiovascular disease and how it affects women was the topic of his talk.

“This is America’s ‘stroke belt,’” McQueen told the capacity crowd attending the lunch meeting held at the Enterprise First United Methodist Church Family Life Center. “The South, particularly the deep South, has the highest rates of strokes.”

Alabama has the highest rate—in all 67 counties—of death from cardiovascular disease in the country, McQueen said, defining heart disease as “a broad term to describe a group of disorders that are a result of narrowing to the vessels most commonly as a result of atherosclerotic process or plaque build up within arteries.”

Risk for developing heart disease is heightened by having diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol

and smoking, McQueen said. “These risk factors generally affect women at different rates then they affect men.”

In 1990, 5.6 percent of the people in Alabama had diabetes, McQueen said, adding that 8.5 percent of Alabamians had diabetes in 2002. In 2007 the percentage rose to 10.3 percent, in 2012 it rose to 12 percent and in 2019 to 15 percent. “That percentage is expected to continue to climb for the next several years,” he said. “Diabetes is the second greatest risk factor for peripheral artery disease behind smoking.”

The risk for cardiovascular disease is proportionate to the amount of cigarette smoking over a person’s lifetime, McQueen said. “There is no amount of cigarette smoking that is safe. Even one cigarette a day over the course of a lifetime, increases risk of heart disease by 50 percent and risk of stroke by 25 percent.

Even second hand smoke places you at higher risk over time.

“Women are more impacted by cigarette smoking than men are,” McQueen said. “There is a six-fold increase in cardiovascular disease in women who smoke as opposed to a three-fold increase in men who smoke.”

Studies also indicate that female smokers tend to have more complications following heart attacks than men, he added.

While the typical symptoms of cardiovascular disease are dull or heavy chest pain in the center or left side of the chest made worse with exertion, often associated with nausea and shortness of breath, females do not present “typical” symptoms. “Sometimes it’s just nausea or vomiting,” McQueen said. “It can be a pain in the neck or jaw or a pain in the abdomen or back.”

Some other indicators that a person is experiencing a health emergency include sudden loss of balance, facial drooping, arm weakness or numbness or slurred speech, McQueen explained.

“There is a large public health push to get people to recognize the signs of stroke because the earlier we can identify it and treat it, the more brain tissue we can save,” McQueen said. “If you suspect a stroke, timing is imperative. Call 911 immediately because some of these things will be able to be reversed if somebody is able to be treated very quickly.”

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