FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 9, 2012) -- February is considered the month of the heart. It is only fitting that we talk about women and the importance of our hearts. Aren't we the recipients of flowers, chocolate and romantic cards from our husbands and significant others this month? Aren't we considered the hearts of our homes?

We have to take care of our hearts and in doing so we have to be aware of conditions that will make it falter. Among all Americans who die each year, one in four succumbs to heart disease. In 2004, nearly 60 percent more women died of cardiovascular disease than all cancers combined. The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to get heart disease and stroke. Women of all ages should be concerned about this; we should take steps to prevent heart disease. Take action to reduce heart disease risk by doing these things:

Exercising. Each week aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity. Walking is considered moderate exercise. So get your sneakers and go.

Don't smoke. If you smoke, we do have smoking cessation classes available in Preventive Medicine at Kenner.

Eat healthy and maintain a normal weight. Ask your PCM or your nurse what your BMI is. They will be happy to supply you with the numbers and help you get to your ideal weight. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one 5-ounce glass of wine. Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, as well as whole grains. Also cut down on salt and red meat.

Know your numbers. Know what your blood pressure is, your cholesterol, sugar and triglycerides. Get copies of your blood work and ask your nurse or PCM what the abnormal numbers are and what they mean.

Find healthy ways to cope with stress. A daily dose of 81 mg. aspirin also helps but check with your PCM first.

What are the signs of a heart attack? For both men and women, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain and discomfort in the center of the chest. The pain or discomfort is not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, particularly in women. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms, unrelated to chest pains such as these:

• Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort

• Shortness of breath

• Nausea or vomiting

• Sweating

• Light-headedness or dizziness

• Unusual fatigue

These symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in the main coronary arteries but also in the smaller caliber arteries of the heart.

The traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. However, the following factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women:

• Metabolic syndrome - a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides - has a greater impact on women than men.

• Mental stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatments. So talk to your PCM if you're having symptoms of depression.

• Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant factor for developing cardiovascular disease in small vessels.

• And last but not least, stop smoking.

To all women: happy Valentine's Day and keep your heart healthy. Wear red every Friday to celebrate our hearts for the month of February.