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Women vets learn about heart health at Butler VA

Laurie Kubli, center, an Army veteran, listens to a presentation about heart health at the Abie Abraham VA Health Care Center in Center Township on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Kubli worked as a missile tech and served in Korea. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

CENTER TWP — Dr. Aref M. Rahman, an interventional cardiologist, said if there is one thing the public should know about women’s heart health, it’s that health care providers need to be better at making women aware of their heart disease risk.

Rahman, who is the chief of staff at Butler VA Health Care System, spoke to women veterans on Tuesday, Feb. 7, who gathered in the auditorium at the Abie Abraham VA Health Care Center or attended virtually for an educational forum meant to prevent heart disease in women.

Rahman told the women that portrayals of heart attacks on TV were always men grabbing their chests, but never women with nausea and vomiting or the feeling of something lodged in their throats.

“Heart disease is a disease that affects women of all ages and ethnicities,” Rahman said.

He said heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and that a study showed women sought medical intervention an average of five to seven minutes later in their symptoms than men.

Women veterans attend a presentation about heart health at Abie Abraham VA Health Care Center in Center Township on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

Women are more susceptible to heart attack and heart disease because their vessels are more narrow, hemoglobin is lower due to menstruation, hormones can be unbalanced due to menopause, and other factors, Rahman said.

Another study showed that less than half of women diagnosed with heart issues had any idea they had risk factors, he said.

Those risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, family history of heart disease, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and excessive stress.

A survey of women, Rahman said, showed that 60% do not exercise, 40% are obese, 30% have high blood pressure and 20% are cigarette smokers.

Rahman said healthy heart statistics are a blood pressure of 120/80, cholesterol less than 200, body mass index of 25 or less, and a blood sugar count of 100 or less.

He advocated the “plan, pick, portion and enjoy” diet model, in which meals are planned, foods for recipes in the plan are carefully chosen, and meals are portioned and enjoyed.

“If you don’t enjoy your food, you’re not going to be able to sustain the diet,” Rahman said.

He recommends 30 minutes of exercise five times per week, but he cautions those who have not exercised in some time to start off at 10 minutes per day and working their way up to 30.

“If you try 30 minutes right away, you’re not going to continue,” Rahman said.

He also recommends women take time for themselves each day, whether doing yoga, meditating or visiting the spa instead of constantly caring for others.

Rahman also offered comforting words for women who have been diagnosed with heart disease.

“Own it. You can live with it,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

Rahman opened a question-and-answer period for the women veterans and VA employees attending the forum.

In his answers, Rahman said 30-minute daily workouts should not be split up into three 10-minute workouts; studies have shown that women avoid heart care due to fear their insurance will not cover it; doctors know the wording to use to get insurance coverage for women if the traditional heart attack symptoms are not present; the hormone changes associated with menopause can present a heart health risk; and to see a doctor right away if antacids do not relieve severe reflux.

Mary Kate Nelson, women’s health dietitian with Abie Abraham VA Health Care Center, demonstrates how to prepare overnight oats during a heart health seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

After Rahman’s presentation, Mary Kate Nelson, women’s health dietitian at the Butler VA Health Care System, showed those in attendance how to make a heart-healthy breakfast called overnight oats.

Nelson also explained the “5 to 20 rule” regarding choosing healthy foods.

She said when reading a product’s label, sodium and fat content counts of 5% or less is a green light; between 6% and 20% is a yellow light, meaning to eat it sparingly; and more than 20% should be avoided or eaten very rarely.

Laurie Kubli, 59, of Armstrong County, attended the heart-health forum on Tuesday.

The Army and Army National Guard veteran said she was a physical education major in college and played volleyball regularly for many years.

As she became older, she became less active, but is now interested in doing the hard work of getting in shape.

“I really need the encouragement they provide here,” Kubli said.

She said she was unaware of some of the heart attack symptoms common to women.

“I really appreciate what they do at this VA,” Kubli said. “I just hope other women take (heart health) seriously and really do these things.”

Cheryl Schaefer, of Center Township, learns how to make overnight oats at a heart healthy seminar at Abie Abraham VA Health Care Center on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Schaefer served as an Army nurse and is a combat veteran. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

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