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Heart Health Tips from Dr. Oz

  • Sony Pictures Television/Robert Trachtenberg

  • Sony Pictures Television/Robert Trachtenberg

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What a Woman's Heart Attack Looks Like

It's not that women don't get chest pain during a heart attack. We can, although often women describe the sensation more as achiness, tightness, or pressure than as pain. But we're also more likely to experience other symptoms. While chest pain was the most common symptom for both men and women, according to a Swedish study of 225 first-time heart attack patients, women were more apt to report nausea, back pain, dizziness, and palpitations. Women were three times as likely as men to experience more than three heart attack symptoms at once. "Even doctors sometimes mistake women's symptoms for indigestion, heartburn, or the flu," says Dr. Oz.

Two Big Diet Fixes—Make 'Em Today!

Eat Less Sugar

Sugar hurts us in two ways, says Dr. Oz. First, the sugar molecule itself is like a jagged piece of glass that scrapes up the arteries as it travels through your bloodstream. That scarring catches plaque, allowing it to build up and narrow the arteries. Second, because sugar is stored as fat, it leads to weight gain, particularly around the belly. Most Americans take in about 22 teaspoons of sugar every day. Much of that comes from sodas and fruit drinks. Other sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup, lurk in unlikely places, such as ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing. The American Heart Association now recommends that women limit added sugar consumption to 100 calories (about 6 teaspoons) a day, with no more than 450 calories a week coming from sugary drinks. That's less than half a 12-ounce can of regular soda a day. Dr. Oz's rule: "If high fructose corn syrup is one of the first five ingredients in a product or there's more than 4 grams of sugar per serving (that's 1 teaspoon), skip it."

Eat More Fatty Fish

As sources of protein go, it doesn't get much better than fish, which is low in artery-clogging saturated fat and high in omega-3 essential fats, which improve triglycerides, reduce artery plaque, and prevent irregular heartbeats that can cause sudden death. Women in the Nurses' Health Study who ate fish at least twice a week lowered their risk of dying from heart disease by 31%. Grill or bake (don't fry) salmon, shrimp, rainbow trout, pollock (the fish used to make imitation crab), or sardines. Dr. Oz also recommends taking 600 milligrams a day of the omega-3 essential fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

5 Tests That Can Save Your Life

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How Often

Target Range

Why It Matters

Blood Pressure

Your doctor will take your blood pressure during your annual visit, but once a month check it yourself at a blood pressure station at the mall, supermarket, or drugstore.

Below 120/80 mmHg (below 115/75 mmHg if you're over 40). Above 120/80 mmHg is considered pre-hypertension; above 140/90 mmHg is full-blown hypertension.

Hypertension more than triples your risk for heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure not only makes your heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body, it also hardens arteries prematurely and causes micro-tears in artery walls that can trap plaque and cause blockages.


Every five years your doctor should check the cholesterol/triglyceride levels in your blood, more often if you already have high cholesterol or are using medication to lower it. Ask your doctor about a home test kit like CardioChek ($105 plus test strips, available at drugstores and online). 

Aim for LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dl; HDL cholesterol above 50 mg/dl; triglycerides below 150 mg/dl.

Having high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, along with low HDL cholesterol, leads to artery plaque. About 50% of heart attacks and 20% of strokes are linked to elevated cholesterol levels.

Fasting Blood Glucose

If you have no risk factors, get this test every three years, starting at 45. But if you're overweight and have at least one other risk factor for diabetes (family history; hypertension; elevated triglycerides, and low HDL levels; or you developed gestational diabetes or had a baby weighing more than nine pounds) ask your doctor about doing this test now.

Below 100 mg/dl is normal; 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl is considered pre-diabetes; over 126 mg/dl is considered diabetes.

Excess sugar in your blood damages blood vessels and leads to diabetes, which doubles women's risk for a first heart attack.

Ankle-Brachial Index

At least once a year ask your doctor to do this noninvasive test that compares the blood pressure in your feet with the one in your arms to make sure you're getting good blood flow throughout your body.

Blood pressure in your foot should be at least 90% of what it is in your arm.

If the blood pressure in your foot is much lower than in your arm, it's an indication that plaque is collecting in the arteries in your legs, a condition known as peripheral artery disease. And if there's plaque down there, it's a good bet it's in your coronary arteries as well.

Waist Circumference

At least once a month wrap a tape measure around your middle at your belly button. 

Take your height in inches, then divide by 2 to get your ideal waist measurement. If you're 5'4" (64 inches), your waist should be no bigger than 32 inches around.

Belly fat produces hormones that cause inflammation, damage organs, and promote insulin resistance. New studies show that when a woman of normal weight has a waist larger than 34.6 inches, her chance of stroke quadruples. And a wide middle coupled with elevated triglycerides nearly quadruples a woman's heart disease risk.