When Pain Relievers Can Cause More Harm Than Good

As we age, we’re naturally prone to more aches and pains. While acetaminophen and ibuprofen are available at minimal prices, and Americans consume billions of doses of the two drugs each year, they can pose major risks to your overall health.  But do you really know what effects they can have on your body?

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15 Yummy Recipes to Protect Your Heart

This post is sponsored by the Institute for Vibrant Living (IVL).

It’s hard to keep up with trending health concerns, but one thing is certain: Women need to love their hearts a little bit more. As a matter of fact, heart-related illnesses cause more deaths than breast cancer. With a rise in preventive cardiology, as well as the development of more heart friendly products, we were interested to see what we could cook up using a new–and free–eBook of heart healthy recipes.

15 Delicious and Easy Heart Healthy Recipes focuses on superfoods, inflammation, and overall cardiovascular health, offering 5 recipes for each category.

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Not Your Daddy’s Heart Attack

When she was 50 years old, Rosie O’Donnell left a medical appointment with her wife, who was undergoing treatment for cancer. As they left the hospital, the two of them helped lift a morbidly obese woman who’d become stuck in her car. Upon returning home with her wife, Rosie felt “as though a bear had grabbed both of my arms and ripped out the muscle.”

They hurt, but the pain wasn’t radiating into her chest,
neck, or jaw.

Rosie actually visited her therapist at first, thinking she was having a physical reaction to the emotional distress of helping the overweight woman. She’d identified with the woman because, as she says in “A Heartfelt Stand Up,” which aired on HBO in February, “I understand the shame of being overweight in America.” Rosie is not alone, since obesity is one of the top issues facing America. Her therapist sent her home, thinking that Rosie was having a panic attack. Instead, she was having a heart attack, and it almost killed her.

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Don’t Swallow Another Supplement Until You’ve Read This! [Sponsored Post]

Women can be funny creatures.

Fanatic as we may be about staying in shape, by exercising and eating intelligently, we often skip entire meals because we’re A) just too busy, B) not hungry or C) hungry, but figure it just doesn’t hurt to skip a meal now and again.

Oh, but it does. It really does. Think about newborns and infants. They require a certain amount of milk (breast or formula) each day, in order to grow bigger and stronger. If a mother decided to simply eliminate feedings, here and there throughout the week, the baby wouldn’t get all the nutrition it needed. Of course, women over 50 don’t need to grow bigger (we sure don’t!) , but we must make certain to maintain good health and keep up our strength. When we deny our bodies the proper nutrition they need each day, it decreases our chances of doing either. So while a svelte bod may look good on the outside, it’s probably not working so well on the inside if it doesn’t get the proper vitamins and minerals, not to mention things like omega-3s fatty acids and antioxidants.

Let’s stop here, you’re saying to yourself about now. Practically every day, you read or hear about another dietary supplement that one expert or another claims you MUST take. Calcium and D3 for bones; Vitamin C for collagen; Vitamin E to fight cell damage; magnesium for energy and to help your muscles, arteries and heart to work properly. And how can something called “fatty” be good for you? One look at the packed vitamin shelves in the drugstore sends you into a tizzy, and there’s no one around to help. The shops that specialize in vitamins aren’t any better, since the salespeople try to push everything on you, having no idea what you need. What you really need, you’re convinced, is an advanced degree in nutrition to understand all the gobbledygook thrown at you from every direction.

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How To Ensure Your Heart Health [Sponsored Post]

We women spend lots of time paying attention to what our hearts tell us.

At least when it comes to matters of love and relationships, and which pair of shoes or necklace to buy. But we’d better start paying attention to the messages our hearts send us about matters of health. Because this powerful muscular organ, only the size of a fist, can incapacitate or even kill us in minutes.

And it does. Over 500,000 women die every year from heart disease, representing a little over half of all heart-related deaths in the United States; of these deaths, heart attacks claim the lives of 267,000 women. That’s six times greater than the number of women who die of breast cancer.

Read that last statement again: Six times more women die of heart attacks than breast cancer!

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Oprah Took Her Advice to Heart. So Should You.

Once featured in Oprah Magazine as Oprah’s cardiologist, Dr. Annabelle S. Volgman is professor of medicine and medical director of the Heart Center for Women at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

She received her medical doctorate degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York, and did her internal medicine training at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics and her cardiology fellowship training at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Volgman has been a prominent leader of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement and has received numerous awards from the AHA, including the 2011 Coeur d’Or Award.

FOF’s Geri Brin talked to Dr. Volgman about AFIB and Preventive Cardiology, important subjects about which most of us know little. Learn about them right now, so you’ll make sure to keep your heart healthy for the future.

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The Handbag Essential That Could Save Your Life

This post is a sponsored post on behalf of Bayer Healthcare, the makers of Bayer® Aspirin.

Our hearts need lots of things, like love and exercise. But they need something else that’s small enough to slip into our handbags: Aspirin.

Nearly 300,000 women in the U.S. suffer heart attacks every year,1 but most of us are woefully ill prepared for a sudden assault to this precious organ. Taking aspirin during a suspected heart attack and 30 days thereafter as directed by a doctor can help reduce our risk of death and lessen the damaging effects to our heart muscle.2 We should never leave home without it, yet most of us do. What’s worse, the majority of us wouldn’t even know if we were having an attack!

That’s why Bayer Healthcare, the makers of Bayer® Aspirin and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, have launched year 2 of Handbags & Hearts, a national campaign that urges us to carry aspirin in our handbags, and to learn about the different signs and symptoms of women’s heart attacks.

Bet you didn’t know that women experience symptoms such as nausea and cold sweats during attacks.3 Make sure to learn more here.

Why You Should Visit HandbagsAndHearts.com

Throughout the month of May, Bayer Healthcare will donate to WomenHeart. “Like” a post on HandbagsAndHearts.com and Bayer® will donate $1. “Share” a post and Bayer® will give $2 and $1 for coupon redemption—up to $50,000.

You can also enter to win 1 of 31 luxe designer handbags during the month. Start talking and enter to win.

Suspect You’re
Having A Heart Attack?

Call 911 the moment you suspect a heart attack and take your Bayer® Aspirin, as directed by a doctor. Remember, this simple and swift act could help save your life.

A Word From A Doctor

“As a cardiologist, I see women everyday who are unclear of the steps to take when they suspect a heart attack,” said Tracy Stevens, M.D., FACC, Medical Director of the Saint Luke’s Mid American Heart Institute’s Muriel L. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center, Kansas City, and member of the WomenHeart Scientific Advisory Council. “I feel compelled to spread the word, as there are actions we can take to better prepare ourselves and ultimately save lives,” said Dr. Stevens.

If heart attack preparedness is important to you (not to mention handbags), it’s time to visit this important site.

1 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2014 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association — Table 18-1 http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/12/18/01.cir.0000441139.02102.80
2 The ISIS-2 collaborative group. Randomized trial of intravenous streptokinase, oral aspirin, both, or neither among 17,187 cases of suspected acute myocardial infarction: ISIS-2. Lancet 1988; ii: 349–60.
3 Bayer Aspirin Survey: Conducted by Wakefield Research. Demographic Report, 1,000 U.S. Women Ages 40+. April (2013).ISI-2, ASA Professional Label and AHA MI Guidelines

This Gadget Could Save Your Life

FOF Patti Frenette wants to stop fatal heart attacks, one Aspirinpod at a time.

Aspirinpods are available in our FOF Shop!

In 2003, Patti Frenette got the shock of her life when her fit, thin, younger brother suffered a serious heart attack at just 54 years old. She flew immediately to his bedside in Wichita to meet with his wife and cardiologist. “Thank God you gave him that aspirin to chew when he started feeling sick,” the cardiologist told his wife, “or he might not have survived.”

From that moment on, Patti was on a mission to spread the word about the benefit of taking an aspirin at the first sign of a heart attack. She created Aspirinpod, a heart-shaped pillbox, perfectly sized to hold two adult aspirin or four baby aspirin. It fits neatly everywhere, from your keychain to your golf bag, so you can be sure to have an aspirin with you if you or someone you love has a heart attack.

How did you come up with the idea for Aspirinpod?

When I returned from Witchita, I took an informal survey of friends and colleagues. I would ask, ‘If I were having a heart attack right now and asked you for an aspirin to save my life, would you have one?’ Out of 450 people surveyed, only 5 said yes. Lots of people had Advil or Tylenol, but very few had plain old aspirin. I realized, people just don’t know about this. It took a few years, but eventually I applied for the design patent, and by 2009 I was in production.

Exactly what dose of aspirin should you take?

At the onset of heart attack symptoms, you should call 911 and chew one 325 milligram (regular strength) aspirin or four baby aspirin.

What symptoms should you watch out for?

Women’s heart attack symptoms can be much subtler than men’s. As opposed to the crushing arm and chest pain that men feel, women often feel extreme exhaustion. Now, how many exhausted women do you know? A lot. Also, nausea, indigestion or discomfort in between your shoulder blades. By the time women get to the emergency room, it’s often too late. That’s why carrying aspirin with you as a woman is doubly important.

What exactly is the aspirin doing?

It’s thinning your blood, so that any clots or blockages and pass.

Do you know anyone who’s actually used their Aspirinpod and prevented a heart attack?

Oh, I get tons of letters. Actually, a woman I met through work had a heart attack at her desk, at 9am one morning, and she ate the aspirin from her pod. I had only met her a few days before and she wrote me a note afterwards saying how our meeting was serendipitous.

I actually used it, recently, when I had terrible stomach pains and thought I was having a heart attack! I was doubled over in pain and a friend called 911 while I chewed the aspirin. It turned out to be indigestion, but my motto is: Be Prepared. No Regrets.

Patti Frenette is the inventor of the Aspirinpod. She lives in Dallas, Texas.

Aspirinpods are available in our FOF Shop!

Is your statin safe?

The FDA is adding new warnings to this popular drug. Here’s what you need to know now.

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If you’re over fifty in America, there’s a good chance you’re taking a statin. Nearly 22 percent of adults 45 or older take one of these cholesterol-lowering drugs, making them the most commonly prescribed medications in the world.

Last week, the FDA added new safety alerts to statin labels, including reported side effects of memory loss, confusion, and a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. Not surprisingly, many people panicked. Medical message boards were flooded with questions like, “Will Zocor give me dementia?” and “Is Lipitor making me sick?” A cursory google search brings up dozens of sites claiming statins are dangerous, unnecessary, over-prescribed—even a corporate conspiracy. Still, the FDA insists that this new information should not “scare people off statins. The value of statins in preventing heart disease has been clearly established. Their benefit is indisputable.”

So what’s the real story? For answers, we turned to a source we truly trust, Dr. Steve Nissen, Cleveland Clinic Chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine. Named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, Dr. Nissen is not only a leading cardiologist and researcher, he’s also a leading patient advocate. He has has led inquiries as to the scientific integrity of many big-name medications currently on the market. In other words, he’s not afraid to question the status quo. Here, he answers all our questions.

FOF: If you are currently taking a statin medication, should you consider stopping as a result of this report?
Dr. Nissen: No patient should stop a medication because she hears a news report. These decisions should always be made through a discussion with your doctor. Most authorities do not believe that these new warnings represent a major change in thinking about statin drugs. We’ve known for several years, for example, that statins do very slightly push up blood sugar. That means, if you’re just under the threshold for diabetes, you’ll cross over and be labeled as having diabetes. But, in those patients for whom the blood sugar did go up a little bit, the benefits of the drug remained the same. The diseases that statins prevent–like heart attack stroke–are still reduced equally well.

Still, it’s alarming how many people are on statins. Do you think these pills are over prescribed?
I do. Doctors need to stick with the guidelines, which are very carefully worded so that patients at high cardiovascular risk are recommended for receiving statins, and patients who are at low risk are not. There are a certain number of people–I’ll call them the ‘worried well’–who are treated with statins by their doctors but who don’t really meet the current criteria. Those people are better off using diet, exercise and other means to control their cholesterol elevation. But, there are equally large numbers of patients who meet all the criteria for receiving a statin and who aren’t on them.  The key is to make sure the right patients get these drugs.

How do you know if you should be taking a statin or if you’re one of the “worried well”?
There is a risk calculator available online called the Framinghan Risk Score. If you put in your numbers (age, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc) it will give you your 10-year risk of having a heart attack. If you come out well under 10% risk for 10 years, your risk is low, and you likely don’t need to be on a statin. If you’ve had a heart attack, you should be on a statin–period. If your LDL cholesterol reaches a certain level–above 160-190–we will treat you with a statin even if they have minimal other risk factors.

If your doctor says you need to be on a statin, but you are still concerned, what do you need to say to your doctor to make sure you’re getting the right treatment?
Ask exactly what calculations he or she using to determine your treatment. Did he or she use the Framingham or another similar tool? If you still have doubts, it is never a bad idea to get a second opinion.

What if you’re on a statin and you’re experiencing some of these side effects. Should you be worried?
Every drug has a degree of tolerability that differs from patient to patient. Good medicine is about customization. The goal is to find the drug in the dosage that works for you with the least side effects possible.

There are many sites on the web with experts who claim that these drugs are way over prescribed, and that there are “natural” alternatives to lower your bad cholesterol without jumping on a statin.
I have a very simple answer for those sites: nonsense. There are no “natural” alternatives to statins. The dietary supplement industry is unregulated, so they make these claims but there’s no science to back them up. Don’t be fooled by these promotions of dietary supplements—they simply don’t lower cholesterol.

So maybe there isn’t a supplement. But what about changing your diet and exercise? Can behavioral changes be a good alternative to statins?
A statin should always be coupled with behavioral changes. Good and prudent doctors always couple lifestyle changes with drug therapy. Using these behavioral changes as an alternative to a statin depends on your level of risk–every patient is a little bit different.

If you’re on the borderline of taking a statin, should these side effects be a motivation to make changes to your lifestyle so you don’t have to go one one?
It’s not that easy, and here’s why. Lifestyle changes typically don’t reduce cholesterol by more the 10-15 percent. Statins reduce cholesterol levels by 30-60 percent.If your numbers are high enough that you need a statin, the odds are good that you’re not going to get them down with diet alone, unless you’re willing to take on an extreme diet…and most people can’t sustain that.

Why would you be in a situation where your cholesterol levels are so high that there’s nothing you can do but take a statin?
It’s really about genes. Only 20 percent of cholesterol level comes from your environment…80% comes from your genes. That’s one reasons that diet can only lower cholesterol so much.

What about people who say that these drugs are being over-prescribed because of all the marketing being done by big pharmaceutical companies?
There’s a marketing element here absolutely. Having said that, we have probably saved more lives by lowering choesterol levels with statins than with any other drugs in the history of the medical profession. The only thing that comes close probably is penicillin.

If there is one single change you could be making to lower your bad cholestorol–apart from a statin–what would it be?
Reduce your intake of saturated fat in your diet–butter and meat.

My Face Flushing Red – My Story and Diagnosis

FOF Linda McCoy reveals why every FOF should know the warning signs of Atrial Fibrillation

[Editor’s note: The essay below, by FOF Linda McCoy, is part of a series of personal blogs from our readers. Have your own story to tell? Email your idea to geri@faboverfifty.com.]

It started out as a routine visit to the doctor’s office. I was scheduled for lab work and a refill on my prescription for high blood pressure, which has been under control for years. The doctor quietly listened to my heart and asked the nurse to take a cardiogram. I wasn’t alarmed; I’d had Rheumatic Fever as a kid and been through many electrocardiograms.

When the doctor came back, she looked at me seriously and told me I had Atrial Fibrillation and that I needed to see a cardiologist right away. When I asked her to explain exactly what that meant, she told me my heart was not pumping correctly, and that blood was sitting in my heart chamber, which could cause it to form a blood clot.

I learned that during Atrial Fibrillation, the the upper chambers of the heart beat very rapidly and irregularly–“quivering” instead of contracting normally. By  itself, AF isn’t life threatening, but it can cause uncomfortable symptoms like palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. It can also lead to other rhythm problems and congestive heart failure. The most serious complication is stroke: AF increases a person’s risk of having a stroke by five times the normal level.

My doctor arranged an appointment with a cardiologist for the next day. Meanwhile, I was sent home with a prescription for blood thinners and a heart drug. Of course, I had to find out what Dr. Google said, which made me more apprehensive. I spent a restless night worried about the next day’s visit.

My visit to the cardiologist confirmed my family doctor’s diagnosis. He explained that they don’t know what causes AF, but many people have it. He said I would have to remain on blood thinners and advised a procedure called cardio-version, during which an electrical shock is applied to your heart to regulate your heartbeat. A week later I got the cardioversion, but my “a-fib” came back. A month later, I got another cardio-version, but it didn’t work either.

Next, the doctor recommended ablation, a procedure where they cauterize the heart cells that are miss-firing. The decision to have it done wasn’t an easy one. Ablation is a long procedure, carries some risk, and there are no guarantees it will work. Sometimes it has to be done more than once. It took me a year to muster up the courage to go forward with it.

I arrived at the hospital pretty calm. I trusted my doctor, and, after all, I was going to be under anesthesia. They sent a young male orderly in to shave my groin area, since this is where the catheters are inserted into your legs. I sent him packing! ‘Can’t I please have a female nurse do that?’ When the nurse arrived with a razor in hand she told me what a wonderful young man the orderly was and that he had been there for years, surely trying to make me feel guilty. She did the deed with efficiency. Having the catheter put in wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. Thank God!

Before they wheeled me into the operating room, my husband and daughter came in to say goodbye. There I was, in tears (is this normal?),  “bye then, see you later.” Next I found myself in a room that looked like the bridge of the “Starship Enterprise”–more computers than anyone could imagine. I was put completely out. I woke up seven hours later; I don’t remember being taken back to my room.  I was advised to lay flat for six hours and that the catheters (three in each leg) would come out when my blood reached a certain level. They allowed me to eat raspberry sorbet. I told my husband and daughter it was the best thing I ever ate. What was I thinking?  The blood level they were after was not obtained until seven the next morning.

They asked if I wanted a pain killer before they took the catheters in my veins and arteries out. The nurse said they sometimes make people sick,  so I declined. This REALLY hurt, and I regretted saying no. (Note to self: When the hospital staff offers a pain killer, take the drug and say “thank you!”) As soon as I was disconnected from the Foley catheter and intravenous fluids I was allowed to go home under strict instructions. The numbness and soreness in my legs bothered me.

My recovery is still in process, my left leg is still quite numb, which I am told will fade. My bruises, a dark bluish purple, will eventually disappear.  The most difficult part of the recovery is fatigue, which lasts about three months, until my heart heals completely. On the upside, my heart is now in normal rhythm and hopefully it will stay that way.  My sleep is undisturbed, my family wonders why I am so calm (is this the new me?), and importantly, I should be able to go off blood thinners in the near future.

Many people walk around with undiagnosed atrial fibrillation. Some of the symptoms I missed? I was nervous, tired, agitated, my face was flushed, I had sleepless nights, and loud noises made me jump out of my skin. I am 64 and past menopause, so I should not have ignored these symptoms. I could feel my heart jumping around, although like many people I didn’t want to think it might be something serious, and I attributed it to my penchant for coffee. This is an incredibly common medical issue. Millions of people have it, doctors don’t know what causes it, but one thing is for sure: if you find yourself with these symptoms, you owe it to yourself to make a visit to your doctor. It can be managed. Heads up on this one FOFs!