Editor’s Note: February is American Heart Month. Each Thursday of this month, the Clinton Herald is publishing feature stories about how to improve heart health.

CLINTON — A survey by Harvard Medical School found that while half of the women interviewed knew heart disease was a leading cause of death in women, less than 15 percent noted it as a personal health risk.

Younger women may be unconcerned with heart symptoms, or unaware of what they are or mean. But adverse heart health — subsequent to natural occurrences — accounts for more than 8 million deaths in women each year and makes up one-third of all deaths in women.

At The Alverno, 849 13th Ave. North, Sue Matje, a licensed practical nurse, notes that female patients tend to have congestive heart failure more so than other types of heart disease. She said this health risk “just kind of crops up.” With congestive heart failure, an early noticeable symptom is swelling in the hands, ankles and feet.

“Sometimes the older community — if they’re home — they might not always be aware of that, some of them,” Matje said. “So, then they end up getting a little sicker.”

The Women’s Heart Foundation reported the average age of women who suffer heart attacks each year is 70, and of the 8 million women living with heart disease, 35,000 are under the age of 65. The risk of cardiovascular-related diseases and deaths increases with age, as cholesterol, blood pressure and body fat tend to increase. The American Heart Association reports that heart attacks increase not only with age, but after menopause.

“I just think that society as a whole has more heart issues than we’d probably like to admit,” said Brenda Wiersema, a nurse with The Alverno. “I think a lot of it is the lack of exercise and our poor diets.”

Wiersema has a stent to correct a 90 percent blockage in the “widowmaker,” or main artery. That blockage was detected when she was 53 years old. She noticed a shortness of breath; doctors reported an irregular EKG reading in 2016. She didn’t think much of it, until her brother soon died of a heart attack. Wiersema then was quick to address her issue. Though she doesn’t follow all the healthy living strategies, she is on her feet for up to 13 hours a day and has given up fast food.

Heart-related risks also can be caused by atrial fibrillation, which, though more common in men, has an increased risk of developing into these issues in women.

Lucile Feddersen, a resident at The Alverno, has a family history of heart attacks and other related risks. The 98-year-old bypassed these issues, though she suffers from the irregular heart beats of atrial fibrillation.

Feddersen knew the farm life in Andover, and prior to moving into the Clinton facility, mowing the lawn and gardening were her exercises. She’s never been a meat person, she said, but grew up on whole, non-pasteurized milk and butter.

It’s only been within the last 5 to 10 years that she’s had the irregular rhythm.

“If you’re heart doesn’t want to beat the way it’s supposed to, it let’s you know sometimes,” Feddersen said.

The American Heart Association encourages women to “know their numbers” and individual risks. Preventive action and understanding early symptoms are key.

“Most 50-year-old women know women their age who’ve had breast cancer, but none who’ve had heart disease,” the Harvard report stated.

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