Hot issues and new findings in heart disease

Heart disease is a women's issue. It's the number one cause of death among women (many people think it's cancer, specifically breast cancer) and stroke is number three. But the good news is, both are often preventable and the risk factors for both are the same.

Women tend to take care of themselves last -- after partners, children and work. It's time to flip that around!

5 things to ask your doctor:

1. Is time for my cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose screening? Everyone over 20 should have these basic screening tests regularly. That's how you will know if you're at risk for heart disease and stroke. Take the Go Red for Women evaluation at

Go Red For Women is the American Heart Association's 4-year-old movement to raise awareness about heart disease among women. Maybe you've seen the red dress symbol? Viewers can go to the website, join the movement and get a red dress pin.

2. Say the tests show you have high cholesterol (and almost half of American adults do have total cholesterol of 200 or higher). Ask: What should I do about my high cholesterol? Are there options besides medication? This is often a concern of younger women with high cholesterol. Cholesterol may be important for more than your heart. New study found low levels of good cholesterol were linked to memory loss, dementia risk.

3. How does my family history affect my chances of getting a heart attack? Many women are very concerned and confused about this. (If Uncle Herman had a heart attack at 75, does that count?) Dr. Batten will clarify what "family history" means. And if you do have a family history of heart disease and stroke, what should you do about it?

4. To ask if you are taking or considering hormone replacement therapy. How might female hormones affect my heart? A hot topic because it's so personal and there is new information coming out all the time. What are the current recommendations and what does the newest research show?

5. Should I have a stress test, and if I do, what would it tell me? Tim Russert died not long after he passed a stress test. Former President Clinton had bypass surgery not long after he passed one. Dr. Batten will explain what a stress test is and what it does and does not show.

5 things to start (or keep) doing for your heart, and the hearts of those around you:

1. Get some exercise every day -a 30 minute walk is a great place to start - eat right and if you smoke, stop. For every hour you exercise you gain two hours of life expectancy. That's a pretty good two-for-one offer. As for diet, don't get hung up on individual foods or supplements. A new study shows that a "prudent" dietary pattern can extend your life. This was a very large study (70,000 people over 20 years).

a. The American Heart Association and Go Red for Women have recipes and cookbooks for available on the website.

2. If you drink, drink only in moderation - the equivalent of about one glass of wine a day. And Dr. Batten says: That doesn't mean no wine Mon-Thurs and 7 glasses on Friday night! When it comes to alcohol and your heart, there are gender differences.

3. If you are overweight, start losing weight today. Nationwide, 62% of adult women are overweight or obese, though that figure is lower in the Bay Area. This can be hard to talk about because it brings up very strong feelings for many women but it's such an important health issue that we must find a way to discuss it.

a. How to tell if you are overweight, defined as Body Mass Index of 25 or higher? (The AHA website does the math for you. Go to and type BMI in the search box.) Waist measurement of over 35 inches is also a risk factor.

b. Losing weight isn't easy but it's important.

4. Learn CPR! Take a class. Or get the CPR Anytime kit, less than $30 through the American Heart Association , and you and your family can learn at home. The kit contains an instructional DVD in English and Spanish and an inflatable manikin. It takes less than 30 minutes, and you might save a life.

5. If you have high blood pressure, buy a home monitor and use it. This gets people invested and involved in their own blood pressure control. The doctor needs to know what your blood pressure is during your normal life, not just in the doctor's office.

What about the kids?

In her adult practice, Dr. Batten sees teens who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart palpitations and the like. These problems are on the rise because of the larger number of overweight kids. (new statement on cholesterol treatment in children) As a mother and a cardiologist, Dr. Batten has advice for keeping your kids fit and eating for good health.

A final word from the doctor:
Women often experience heart attacks differently from men. This can delay treatment, which can have very serious consequences. It's important to know if you're at risk and when you should call 911 and get to the emergency room.

Dr. Kristine Batten is the spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and cardiologist at the Women's Health Center of John Muir Health in Walnut Creek

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