According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, with 1 in 3 dying from heart disease in the United States. Taking time to talk with Mom will open the lines of communication about the importance of taking care of one’s health to ensure many years ahead with loved ones. Here are some suggested topics to get the conversation started.
Know your numbers.
A key step to preventing heart disease is to know your numbers — cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting glucose and body mass index are a good start. If your mom isn’t aware of her numbers, help her schedule a physical exam with her doctor to run tests.
- Normal blood pressure — systolic: less than 120 mmHg; diastolic: less than 80 mmHg
- Normal total cholesterol — less than 200 mg/dL
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol — less than 70 mg/dL
- Normal body mass index — less than 25 kg/m2
- Normal blood sugar level (fasting) — less than 100 mg/dL
Know who in your family has had heart disease.
A family history of heart disease is a risk factor for other family members to develop it. Discuss with your mom whether there are relatives who have or had heart disease and what age they had it. Knowing this information and sharing it with the doctor can help assess your mom’s and even your risk for heart disease.
Know that not all heart attacks feel like pain in your chest.
Although chest pain or discomfort is the most common heart attack symptom in both men and women, it is not the only symptom. Women may experience additional symptoms, sometimes in the absence of chest pain.
These symptoms may be subtler and can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pressure or pain in the lower chest or abdomen
- Arm or jaw discomfort
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Extreme fatigue with minimal activity
- Pressure in the back or between the shoulder blades
Know what your mom wants if the unthinkable happens.
It may be the toughest part of the conversation, but it’s helpful to know how your mom would like to be treated if she was nearing the end of life. As difficult as it may be, having this conversation now when she is healthy may be less stressful compared to when she is very ill or in the hospital.
Some questions to ask:
- If you are ever unable to make your own health care decisions, who would be the one person that you would select to honor your wishes and make health care decisions on your behalf?
- If your condition cannot be improved, do you want to be kept alive with life-sustaining treatments or machines? If so, would you ever want those treatments to be discontinued?
- Would you be willing to explore your health care preferences further and keep this conversation going? (A very helpful resource is this Starter Kit.)