Heart health for men and women: Simple tips to save your life

Susan Eardley, a cardiac nurse at St. Joseph Hospital's heart and vascular center, offered a few tips on heart health Jan. 28 during the Federal Way Kiwanis Club meeting.

Seven minutes online can save your life

Eardley invites men and women of all ages to take a free online HeartAware risk assessment at

Women and heart attacks

Symptoms for heart attacks aren't as obvious in women, nor are they expected, Eardley said.

"Women don't have crushing chest pain. Normally we don't get the nausea and sweats that come with it," she said, noting that one symptom is when your arms feel heavy. "We feel like we're getting flu, we feel tired all over."

Eardley recalled a thirty-something woman who had surgery for temporomandibular joint disorder, otherwise known as TMJ, because her jaw hurt. It turned out the woman was having a heart attack.

"And that's the only symptom she had was right here," said Eardley, pointing to her jaw.

The bulk of Eardley's cardiac clientele right now has been 35-year-old women who are "starting to get a little panicky over symptoms they're having," she said.

Men and heart attacks

Signs of a possible heart attack include chest pressure, pain down either arm, nausea, severe heartburn and any abnormal pain, such as between the shoulder blades, Eardley said.

She recalled a 38-year-old tennis player who went to the emergency room because of pain in his elbow that simply felt different, Eardley said.

"We all have our own inner bells and whistles to know if something's wrong," she said, noting that if you have to ask whether you're having a heart attack, then you need to seek help immediately. "We do have inner warning systems. We do have intuition."

Fat, sugar and sodium

At Wednesday's Kiwanis meeting, Eardley showed samples of fat, sodium and sugar content found in common foods.

Club members marveled at the amount of fat found in a serving of 10 Ritz crackers, for example, or the amount of sugar packed into one 12-ounce soft drink.

Sodium is especially difficult to monitor, Eardley said. For example, some servings of canned soup contain nearly a day's worth of sodium. For optimal heart health, people should consume between 1,500 and 1,800 milligrams of sodium a day.

"There's nothing easy about eating right," Eardley said.

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