Heart disease is the number-one killer of American women, and it is preventable.
This was the message brought by Mrs. Arkansas Laine Berry to a group of women at a pre-Valentine's Day "Go Red for Women" luncheon. A fund-raising event preceding the American Heart Walk in April, the luncheon was Friday at Woodland Heights Baptist Church.
"You can save lives if you will tell your loved ones what is really out to get them," Berry told her audience.
Berry began by dispelling a common misconception about women and heart disease.
"As a society, we have long thought of heart disease as a man's disease," she said. For years, Berry said, she worried about losing her father to heart disease, but it was her mother, Cheryl Hatfield of Conway, who struggled with the disease at age 47.
When Hatfield began experiencing fatigue, migraine headaches and high blood pressure, doctors did not test her heart because she was young, active and of a healthy weight. Finally, though, the family decided to take her for an arteriogram, which showed she had three blockages of 90 percent. A double bypass surgery followed immediately.
"Thank goodness we had that test done when we did, because she's sitting here with us today," Berry said.
Berry outlined the vital facts about heart disease in women.
"You are not smaller men," she told the women, explaining the symptoms of heart trouble are different for women. The number one symptom is fatigue. Pain experienced may feel like indigestion or may be felt in the jaw, between shoulder blades or below one of the shoulder blades. Anxiety is also a symptom of heart disease.
It is important to "de-stress," Berry said. A good way to relieve stress is to exercise, which also helps prevent heart disease. Focusing on a healthy diet and refraining from smoking are also important in protecting the heart.
The most important thing women can do to protect themselves, Berry said, is to be educated.
"You must be your own advocate," she said. If women do not feel comfortable with a doctor's diagnosis, they should continue seeking treatment, she said.
Every year, Berry said, heart disease kills 512,000 American women, which is 100,000 more than the number of men who die from the disease. It is also more deaths than result from breast cancer, which kills 48,000 American women each year.
"It is primarily preventable," Berry said. "You can live a long, healthy, productive life."
Stephanie Hecke of the American Heart Association was among those who attended the luncheon.
"It's such an important message, and we hope we've educated some women today with a message that could save their lives," she said.
About 140 women attended the event, which raised about $2,000 for the American Heart Walk. The walk will be Saturday, April 3, at Laurel Park.
(Staff writer Rachel Parker may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277.)
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