Bioscience

Women attack heart disease

April 29, 2008

By Flinn Foundation

[Source: Susie Steckner, Special for The Republic] – Admit it, you could probably eat more healthful food, exercise more and take better care of yourself. Add your high-stress job into the mix, and you’ve increased your risk of heart disease.

As a health-care executive and mother of three, Ruby Majhail was a heart attack waiting to happen.

Genetics, a stressful job, and poor diet and exercise habits conspired against Majhail, bringing a life-threatening diagnosis and a critical vow to make changes.
Today, Majhail has dramatically reduced her heart-attack risk by exercising and watching her diet.

“As you get older, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, I need to change my lifestyle. Otherwise, this will come back to haunt me,’ ” said Majhail, 40, market chief financial officer overseeing Arizona and Nevada for IASIS Healthcare.

Sadly, too many women are missing the message.

Heart disease continues to be the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. In 2006, more than 4,800 Arizona women died of it. In the past decade, more than 53,100 women in the state have lost their lives to it, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Though women older than 65 are most affected, women in their 40s, 50s and early 60s are still at substantial risk. For many, high-stress and deadline-heavy jobs add to that threat, medical studies show.

Women in high-powered jobs are at nearly three times the risk of developing heart disease than working women with less authority and demands, according to a 2002 Framingham Offspring Study.

Another study in 2004 found that women and men in the workplace are six times more likely to have a heart attack 24 hours after a major deadline. Other risk factors for women include taking on unwanted responsibilities at work over the course of a year, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found.

If there’s good news, experts say, it’s that women are becoming increasingly aware of their heart-disease risks through efforts such as the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women educational campaign. A 2006 survey by the association showed that 57 percent of women polled know heart disease is the leading killer of women, up from 34 percent in 2000.
Arizona key in research
In coming years, Arizona could play a key role in the fight against heart disease.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix is developing plans for two initiatives, said Johanna Wolford, 43, director of TGen’s diabetics, cardiovascular and metabolic disease division.

The organization wants to partner with Arizona State University and Scottsdale Healthcare to create outcomes-research centers in order to monitor which treatments are helping prevent heart disease.

It also wants to team up with the University of Arizona to create a center for cardiovascular pharmacogenomics, which would identify the best therapeutic interventions for people at risk for heart disease.

TGen also is in preliminary talks with ASU about developing a cardiovascular outcomes-research center that focuses on ethnically diverse populations.

As TGen looks to the future, there are prevention strategies women can implement today.
Preventing the disease
Diet and exercise are critical. Women should maintain a well-balanced diet and work toward 30 minutes of activity every day, said Adriana Perez, 32, a cardiovascular nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and a Go Red volunteer.

Managing stress also is important. Perez suggests developing a social support system, with a mix of family, friends and neighbors, to help cope with stress.

Women should watch for conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure that can lead to severe heart disease, and they should quit smoking.

Majhail realized she needed to make changes five years ago, when tests showed that the level of her triglycerides – a type of fat – was in the 700s; a healthy level is about 150. She also was at risk because she’s Asian-Indian, a group that has a high rate of heart disease.

She began a new diet and exercise regimen. Her triglyceride level is now at about 250.