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Straight Talk from 'Dr. Stephanie' - December 2012

  Looking Back: Top Heart Tips for 2012 
 En español

Stephanie Coulter, MD

It’s been a big year for Texas Heart Institute and the Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular Health. We’ve covered a lot of information about our hearts and how to take care of them, but I’d like to boil it all down to five helpful tips. Take these tips into 2013 and make it the best year ever for your heart.

#1 - Follow Doctor's Orders  

As women, we want to do it all, but sometimes we can’t do it alone. We need help from a physician, and there is no shame in that.

  • Eighty-percent of your cholesterol level is determined by your genetics so a healthy lifestyle won’t always get you in the healthy range. If your physician prescribes cholesterol-lowering medication, take it!
  • By taking aspirin, you can prevent blood platelets from sticking together and forming a potentially deadly clot. If your doctor prescribes a daily aspirin regimen, do it! Only take aspirin daily if you talk to your doctor first.
  • If your medication makes you feel bad, work with your doctor to figure out the right medicine at the right dose. If your doctor won’t work with you on this, change doctors!
#2 - Move More  

Exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases your HDL (good) cholesterol, lowers your risk of diabetes, can improve symptoms of depression and menopause, and lots more.

  • Get started by building a support team. Studies show that women who involve friends and family in lifestyle changes are more likely to stick to them.
  • Little changes matter. Take the stairs whenever possible, park your car farther away, and take 10-minute strolls around the office.
  • Find a physical activity you like and do it! You aren’t limited to just running on a treadmill. 
#3 - Tweak What You Eat  

There are no “bad” foods, just bad dietary habits. It’s important that you know what you’re putting in your body, but it’s also important to be consistent.  Make wise food choices and stick to them.

  • It’s foods high in saturated fat, not cholesterol, which increase blood cholesterol levels. If you’re trying to lower your intake of saturated fat, choose margarine over butter, low-fat dairy over regular, and lean cuts of meat.
  • Eggs don’t increase cholesterol. They’re low in saturated fat, high in vitamins, and part of a heart healthy diet.
  • Portions are important so cut your portions in half and eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Eliminate junk food from your pantry, and indulge yourself just once a month.
#4 - Expect Changes at Menopause  

Your heart and vascular risk increases by at least two- to fourfold at menopause. You must expect and be prepared to address these changes.

  • Expect your cholesterol to increase during menopause.
  • If you’re postmenopausal and over 50 years of age, be on the lookout for symptoms of “broken heart syndrome” or Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy (a temporary condition sometimes brought on by high stress or grief). Some people who experience sudden or prolonged periods of stress may develop this condition that feels very similar to a heart attack.
  • Even after you hit menopause, it is never too late to decrease your cardiovascular risk with healthy lifestyle changes and the help of a physician.   
#5 - Be Your Own Health Advocate  

Nearly 7 in 10 women say they put their family’s health needs ahead of their own. I understand the temptation to do this, but forgetting about your own health is not a good choice. If you truly love your family, you need to take care of yourself too so you can be there for them for years to come. You are your best health advocate so put your health and the good of your family into your own hands.

  • Know your BMI, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. Download this Know Your Numbers worksheet to keep track.  
  • If you’re a smoker, quit! You are likely to live longer and may gain an average of 4 to 9 years of life.
  • If you go online to look up heart health information, remember that not all health websites are created equal. Consider the source and age of the content before determining the credibility of what you’re reading online.

That’s a lot of information, but at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that, while cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, at least 80% of it is preventable. You can change your heart health destiny!

Until next time!
Stephanie Coulter, MD, Director of the Center for Women's Heart & Vascular Health
Stephanie Coulter, MD

Do you have a topic that you would like to learn more about from Dr. Stephanie? Send us an email at and your question may be the next Straight Talk topic!

For additional ways all women can take care of their hearts, visit the Straight Talk archives on the Texas Heart Institute website.


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