Monthly Archives: July 2013

7 Heart Attack Signs Women — and Doctors — Often Miss

Conventional wisdom has it that heart attacks come out of the blue. We’re also trained to expect a heart attack to happen a certain way: The victim clutches his chest, writhes in pain, and collapses. But for women, it often doesn’t happen that way. Study after study shows heart attacks and heart disease are under-diagnosed in women, with the explanation being that they didn’t have symptoms.


But research shows that’s not always the case. Women who’ve had heart attacks realize, looking back, that they experienced significant symptoms — they just didn’t recognize them as such.

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, 95 percent of women (that’s almost all!) who’d had heart attacks reported experiencing symptoms that were decidedly new or different from their previous experience a month or more before their attacks.

Even when a heart attack is occurring, women are often slow to realize what’s happening and call a doctor. The reason? Women’s heart attack symptoms are different than men’s. This failure to recognize heart attack signs in women has led to a grim statistic: Women are more likely to die from sudden cardiac death than men are, and two thirds of women who have a heart attack don’t recover completely.

To prevent a heart attack from sneaking up on you, watch for these 7 little-known signs of heart attack:


Fatigue. More than 70 percent of women in the NIH study reported extreme fatigue in the month or months prior to their heart attacks. This was not just your run-of-the-mill tiredness — the kind you can power through — this was an overwhelming fatigue that sidelined them from their usual schedules for a few days at a time.

Sleeplessness or insomnia. Despite their fatigue, women who’ve had heart attacks remember experiencing unexplained inability to fall asleep or stay asleep during the month before their heart attacks.

Anxiety and stress. Stress has long been known to up the risk of heart attack. But what women report is the emotional experience; before their heart attacks they felt anxious, stressed, and keyed up, noticeably more than usual. Moments before or during a heart attack, many women report a feeling they describe as “impending doom;” they’re aware that something’s drastically wrong and they can’t cope, but they’re not sure what’s going on.

Indigestion or nausea. Stomach pain, intestinal cramps, nausea, and digestive disruptions are another sign reported by women heart attack patients. Become familiar with your own digestive habits, and pay attention when anything seems out of whack. Note especially if your system seems upset and you haven’t eaten anything out of the ordinary.

Shortness of breath. Of the women in the NIH study, more than 40 percent remembered experiencing this symptom. One of the comments the women made is that they noticed they couldn’t catch their breath while walking up the stairs or doing other daily tasks.

Flu-like symptoms. Clammy, sweaty skin, along with feeling lightheaded and weak, can lead women to wonder if they have the flu when, in fact, they’re having a heart attack.

Jaw, ear, neck, back, or shoulder pain. While pain and numbness in the chest, shoulder, and arm is a common sign of heart attack (at least, among men), women often don’t experience the pain this way. Instead, many women say they felt pain and a sensation of tightness running along their jaw and down the neck, and sometimes up to the ear, as well. The pain may extend down to the shoulder and arm–particularly on the left side–or it may feel like a backache or pulled muscle in the neck and back.


How to protect yourself or the women you care about


In addition to the symptoms they do have, women differ from men in another significant way — they may not experience many of the symptoms we traditionally associate with heart attacks. This, experts say, is a major reason why women’s heart attacks go unrecognized and untreated. Almost half of all women in the NIH study felt no chest pain, even during the heart attack itself. Numbness is another symptom women may not experience, experts say.


If your body is doing unusual things and you just don’t feel “right,” don’t wait. Go see your doctor and ask for a thorough work-up. And if you have any risk factors for cardiac disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, or family history of heart disease, mention these to the doctor. Time is of the essence, so don’t count on medical staff to know your background or read your chart — tell them your risk factors right away, so your condition can be evaluated fully and completely.


7 Top Health Risks for Men Over 40

During midlife and beyond, men’s leading causes of death include familiar standbys: heart disease,cancer, unintentional injuries, stroke,diabetesrespiratory disease, suicide, and Alzheimer’s disease.

To lessen your odds of dying from these killers, curb the critical habits that lead to them:

Risk: Being single

Numerous surveys have shown that married men, especially men in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, are healthier and have lower death rates than those who never married or who are divorced or widowed. Never-married men are three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, for example. After 50, divorced men’s health deteriorates rapidly compared to married men’s, found a RAND Center for the Study of Aging report.

What’s the magic in the ring? The social connectedness of marriage may lower stress levels and depression, which lead to chronic illness. (Women tend to have more social ties outside of marriage.)

Oops: Unmarried men generally have poorer health habits, too — they drink more, eat worse, get less medical care, and engage in more risky behaviors (think drugs and promiscuous sex). Exception: It’s better to be single than in a strained relationship, probably because of the stress toll, say researchers in Student BMJ.

Silver lining: It’s never too late. Men who marry after 25 tend to live longer than those who wed young. And the longer a fellow stays married, the greater the boost to his well-being.

Risk: Electronic overload

Psychologists are debating whether “Internet addiction disorder” is a legitimate diagnosis, and how much is too much, given how ubiquitous screens are in our lives. But one thing’s certain: The more time that’s spent looking at wide-screen TVs, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, laptops, and other electronics, the less time that’s spent on more healthful pursuits, like moving your body, communing with nature, and interacting with human beings.

Social isolation raises the risk of depression and dementia. And a sedentary lifestyle — a.k.a. “sitting disease” — has been linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and premature death. A 2012 Australian study of more than 220,000 adults ages 45 and up linked sitting for 11 or more hours a day with a 40 percent increased risk of death over the next three years.

Oops: Americans spend five hours in front of the TV every day, according to a 2011 JAMA study that didn’t even take all those other screens into account. More than just three hours a day ups your odds of dying of any chronic disease.

Silver lining: The Australian researchers say that getting up and moving even five minutes per hour is a “feasible goal . . . and offers many health benefits.”

Risk: Sloppy sunscreen use

Men over age 40 have the highest exposure to damaging UV rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Men are twice as likely as women to develop skin cancer and die from it. And 6 in 10 cases of melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, affect white men over age 50.

More men tend to work and play sports outdoors; having shorter hair and not wearing makeup adds to the gender’s exposure. Nor are their malignancies noticed and treated early: Middle-aged and older men are the least likely group to perform self-exams or see a dermatologist, according to a 2001 American Academy of Dermatology study.

Oops: Fewer than half of adult men report using sun protection methods (sunscreen, protective clothing, shade), in contrast to 65 percent of adult women.

Silver lining: Doctors tend to detect more early melanomas in men over 65, perhaps because the older you get, the more often you see a doctor for other (nondermatological) reasons.

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Are You at Risk for Stroke?

Are You at Risk for Stroke?

It’s a medical emergency and a leading cause of death in the U.S.
Spotting the warning signs of a stroke could save your life.
View Slideshow ›

5 Snack Foods That Can Reduce Diabetes Risk

Worried you’re headed for diabetes? If you’re carrying extra pounds, you’re probably already somewhat insulin resistant, says Beth Reardon, director of nutrition at Duke University’s Duke Integrative Medicine. That means your body isn’t responding optimally to insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that allows glucose (sugar) from food to stay at a healthy level in the blood.

Though changing your overall eating style is the best way to improve your blood sugar, snack time often trips up otherwise conscientious eaters who find themselves mindlessly grabbing chips and doughnuts.

In general, choose more plants and whole grains, and fewer simple starches and processed foods — even for snacks. Reardon’s choices for five snack foods that won’t undermine the rest of your diet:

Diabetes-Friendly Snack: Kale Chips

They’re so good you can’t eat just one — but you don’t have to worry about holding back. Dark leafy greens in general provide dozens of flavonoids, substances that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. And kale, a cabbage kin, is often called the world’s healthiest vegetable, loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, and almost 50 different flavonoid compounds.

To make kale chips, tear kale into bite-sized pieces. Carefully wash and dry. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sea salt, then bake at 350 degrees until the edges start to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.

You’re basically dehydrating the kale — a process that works for many other vegetables, Reardon says. The drizzle of oil that adds crispness and a little flavor is much less than in a similar batch of fried potatoes. You can also bake spinach chips, sweet potato chips, carrot chips, or taro chips.

5 Secrets to Slowing Aging

We get lots of wake-up calls that we’re getting older. Suddenly we can’t make it up the hill without stopping for breath, or we misplace the keys — or acquaintances’ names — more often. But no whining; there’s also lots we can do to slow the aging process.

“We have way more control than most people think over the factors that affect aging,” says Kelly Traver, a physician and professor at Stanford University and author of The Program: A Brain-Smart Approach to the Healthiest You(Atria, 2009). “A few simple lifestyle changes and you can look ten years younger, feel better, and get your energy back.” Let’s get started!

Stay Active

Add a sport or physical activity to your regimen. When you engage in a physical activity that requires coordination, you stimulate the connections between neurons, essentially juicing the brain’s circuitry, experts say. So get out the golf clubs, take a dance class, try tai chi, get that old bike out of the shed, or join a local sports team.

Have more sex. Is sex the new anti-aging secret? Some experts think so. Researchers in Scotland following a cohort of 3,500 people concluded that regular sex slows the aging process. Sex is good for the obvious reason: It makes you feel close to your partner and gives you that Zorba-like zest for life we all want to feel. But there’s a physical effect as well. During sex, the body secretes the hormone DHEA, which has been linked to weight loss and muscle strength. Studies show DHEA production declines as we age; having regular sex may be one way to prevent that decline. For women, sex releases the hormone oxytocin, which can help moderate mood swings. For men, having sex stimulates production of testosterone, the decline of which is linked to a host of aging–related issues.

Stay Sharp

Get your 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Recent studies have surprised neurologists by showing an even stronger connection between aerobic exercise and memory than previously understood. It seems that stimulating circulation bathes brain cells in oxygen, “feeding” them to keep them young. One study even found that exercise caused the growth of new brain cells in the part of the brain that controls memory.

Stop smoking pot. THC, the active chemical in marijuana, works by stimulating brain cells to release the chemical dopamine, causing relaxation and euphoria, or the feeling of being “high.” This sounds innocent enough, but over time, chronic pot use may speed up the normal age-related loss of neurons, impairing memory and overall sharpness. One study found that rats exposed to THC every day for eight months (the equivalent of 30 percent of their lives) showed they’d lost the same number of brain cells as rats twice their age. In the short term, smoking pot limits the brain’s ability to absorb and retain information and to shift focus easily from one concept to another.

Look Younger

Wrinkle less. The quickest route to fewer wrinkles? Quit smoking. Smoking causes the blood vessels that feed the outer layer of the skin to narrow, leading to dry, papery skin and accelerating wrinkling. In general, experts say, the skin of a smoker looks ten years older than that of a nonsmoker. If you can’t tackle this one solo, enlist expert help or join a support group, as studies show smokers are more likely to quit when they do it in company.

Sleep more hours. Sleeping fewer than eight hours a night doesn’t just leave you feeling tired; it packs on pounds and ups your risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. How? Lack of sleep boosts levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which triggers snack attacks by upping appetite. Lack of sleep also suppresses the hormone leptin, which makes you feel full. Studies have found that people who routinely cut back on sleep are more likely to be overweight and have other resulting health problems than those who get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Revamp your skin care routine. Our skin doesn’t refresh itself as well as we get older, leading to that leathery texture and to discolorations such as age spots. There’s a way, however, to prompt the production of new collagen, the building block of new skin cells. That’s to use a prescription-strength vitamin-A-derived retinol cream, which stimulates the turnover of skin cells. However, because the new skin cells created by retinol are tender and sun-sensitive, you need to be even more vigilant about protecting your skin from UV damage by wearing moisturizer with SPF 30 or higher every day, rain or shine.

Feel Younger

Do yoga. Yoga is particularly effective for anti-aging, says physician Mary Monroe-Rodman of Woodland, California, because many of the postures require balancing, which stimulates the circuitry in the brain. “I recommend yoga to anyone who’s concerned about memory, energy, or just healthy aging in general,” says Monroe-Rodman. “I take yoga myself, and if I miss a class I feel the difference.”

Take fish oil supplements. The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA in fish oil provide one of the best ways to halt all types of physical and mental decline, experts say, because they prevent aging at the cellular level. In fact, interview doctors about what they do themselves to combat aging and they answer: 3 grams of fish oil a day. Think of omega-3 fatty acids as a way to inoculate your body against stress, says Nicholas Perricone, physician and author of The Perricone Promise(Warner Books, 2004). One 2010 study found that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil actually prevent DNA from unraveling — which means you’re stopping the aging process where it starts. And consumer tests show supplements don’t contain significant levels of mercury, a danger with fish itself.

Lift weights. The gym may seem like foreign territory as you edge past 50, but it would be a mistake to cede the weight room to the gym rats. Weight training builds lean muscle, one of the best ways to stave off the weight gain that’s so common later in life. In fact, studies show that the more lean muscle you have, the easier time you have losing weight — without cutting calories. Resistance training is also a key way to prevent osteoporosis. By sending a signal to your bones that you need them to stay strong, resistance training stimulates the remineralization of bone tissue.

Feel More Energetic

Get your thyroid checked. If you feel like your body and brain are stuck in low gear all the time, see your doctor and request a thyroid test. The thyroid regulates the entire metabolic system of the body, so when it’s out of whack the result can be weight gain, loss of energy and libido, and depression. The most common test used is the TSH test, but if your results come back normal, you can also request the T4 test, which some experts consider more sensitive and accurate.

Cut down on drinking. There’s a reason heavy drinkers look — and act — so much older than they are: Alcohol is classified as a neurotoxin, and it has an oxidizing effect on body tissues, which is a science-y way of saying it damages cells. Over time, high alcohol intake causes weight gain and memory loss, increases the risk of diabetes, and leads to flushing, rosacea, and burst capillaries in the skin. It also gives you that puffy look. Men should limit themselves to fewer than two drinks a day, women to one drink or less. And beware of measuring over-generously; one drink is classified as 5 ounces, much less than a typical glass of wine.

Get a full sleep evaluation. If you’re experiencing general mental and physical sluggishness and don’t know why, it’s quite likely you’re sleeping poorly and don’t know it, sleep experts say. A host of sleep problems, including sleep apnea, upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), restless leg syndrome, teeth grinding, and other breathing and swallowing problems, can prevent you from entering the deep, regenerative REM phase of sleep. An evaluation by sleep specialists can determine what’s causing your sleep to get stuck in the shallow phase. Treatment of the underlying issue can allow you to once again experience the regenerative qualities of deep sleep

How to Avoid Caregiver Guilt

Guilt is a normal part of caregiving — you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t experience it, no matter how well or poorly you’re doing the tasks involved. But one type of caregiver is especially vulnerable: the perfectionist.

Perfectionist caregivers have high standards. They demand a lot of others, and more of themselves. They can’t bear a late payment or medicine dosage, a messy kitchen, the first hint of a bedsore. And they’re always feeling guilty about something going wrong — because real life never can live up to impossible standards. Things happen in caregiving. Aim not to be an “A-plus” caregiver, but a “B-plus” one. Your loved one will be happy and well — and you’ll be sane.