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February 3, 2022

Six Things Every Woman Should Know About Heart Health

ThedaCare Cardiac Specialist Offers Recommendations to Help Prevent Disease 

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for women. In 2017, one in five women who died in the country lost their lives because of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Dr. Babar Parvez, a Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist with ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care, wants to help reverse this trend. He explained there are important things that women should know about heart health. 

1. Family history & genetics play a role. 

“Research shows your risk of heart disease and stroke is higher if you’ve had close family members who have had these issues,” said Dr. Parvez. “If you do not know your full family history, start with your immediate family. Find out if your brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents had heart disease or stroke and how old they were when they developed these diseases.” 

Additionally, statistics show that people of certain races face higher risk — African-Americans have higher rates of stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. About half of Hispanic people will have trouble with high cholesterol, and about a third will have high blood pressure. 

Also, it’s important to note that pregnancy-related complications such as diabetes and hypertension during pregnancy can contribute to cardiovascular disease later in life. Dr. Parvez said that women should tell their providers if they’ve had any of these complications during pregnancy. 

2. Prevention is key. 

Regularly seeing your primary care provider for annual wellness visits can help catch issues early. Those visits can also help you and your provider develop strategies to help prevent cardiovascular disease, Dr. Parvez said. 

“Knowing your health numbers and what’s considered normal for each — such as your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar counts — can help you to understand the areas that might need attention,” he said.  

Here are some recommended numbers for most adults from the American Heart Association:  

  • Blood Pressure – 120 / 80 mm Hg 
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) – 25 kg / m2 
  • Fasting Blood Sugar – 100 mg / dL 
  • Total Cholesterol / HDL (Good Cholesterol) – Get your cholesterol checked and talk to your doctor about your numbers and how they impact your HDL (good) cholesterol and your overall risk. 

3. Symptoms may differ for women. 

Heart attacks occur when part of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen, usually due to a blockage in an artery. Women can experience all the same symptoms as men when it comes to heart attacks, but often can experience other symptoms as well.  

For instance, at the onset of a heart attack, men frequently report an intense pressure in the chest along with shortness of breath and radiating pain in other parts of the body, such as down the arms. 

“Women also can experience these symptoms, but they can also have additional or different symptoms that can be mistaken for panic attacks or other issues,” Dr. Parvez said. “For instance, they might have nausea, back pain or dizziness at the onset of a heart attack.” 

Common heart attack symptoms include: 

  • Chest pain or pressure 
  • Trouble breathing/shortness of breath 
  • A pounding/racing heart 
  • A feeling of impending doom 
  • Sweating/cold sweats 
  • Shaking and trembling 
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body, particularly arms, shoulders, back, jaw or neck 

Never wait to see if symptoms go away, Dr. Parvez said. Seek medical attention if you have any signs of heart attack. 

4. Stress leads to unhealthy behaviors. 

Chronic stress is a key factor that can impact the development of heart disease. It can lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol — largely influenced by unhealthy coping factors such as overeating, being sedentary, drinking, smoking and other unhealthy behaviors. 

“Take a close look at the stress factors in your life and how you’re coping with them,” Dr. Parvez recommended. “You may need to consider making changes in your daily life to better manage factors contributing to your stress. And don’t hesitate to talk to your provider about your stress — they may be able to refer you to other resources such as counseling.” 

Eating healthy foods, exercising and resting well at night can also help reduce the impact of stress, he said. 

5. Lifestyle means a lot. 

“If you follow a heart-healthy diet — meaning lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats like fish and poultry without skin — you can help reduce your chances of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Parvez said. 

Cooking healthier foods may take a little more effort than going through the fast food drive-through window, but with more options for delivery of groceries and fresh food boxes, it’s getting easier for busy people to make better choices. 

Limiting alcohol to moderate consumption or less — a maximum of one drink per day — also will help you to stay healthier.  

“Heavy alcohol consumption can be a contributing factor to heart disease and other health problems,” he said. “And if you are a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your health is to quit today.” 

6. Partnering up can help you stay on track. 

Choosing a buddy to help you stay on track health-wise can be very valuable. 

“Studies show that an emotionally supportive friend or companion who exercises with you can help you to get more physical activity,” he said. “And that’s a great way to keep healthy.” 

Current recommendations say healthy adults should get moderate aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or biking, at least 150 minutes weekly, or vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running, for 75 minutes a week. Strength training twice a week is recommended as well. 

“So many people have busy schedules,” said Dr. Parvez. “Even getting in a few five- or ten-minute walks each day will help improve your health. Anything positive you can do will help your heart health in the long run.” 

About ThedaCare 

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care. 

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.