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When it comes to matters of the heart, moms need to care for their own health and be aware of how they can influence their children’s heart health for years to come.

Andrea Bryan, a cardiologist with Greenville Health System’s Carolina Cardiology Consultants, said heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. And much of it is preventable. Often, women ignore symptoms that seem more of an inconvenience than a sign of a life-threatening condition because symptoms of a heart attack in women can look very different from one in men.

Women with heart disease may experience chest pain, which can occur with physical activity or mental stress, but they commonly have back or upper abdominal pain or even pain in the teeth or jaw.

“You have to watch out for yourself, but you can also teach your children,” Bryan said. “The reason we are putting stents in 30-year-olds is because of smoking and a diet high saturated fats and animal products.”

Bryan said a vegan diet — free of all animal products including meat, dairy and eggs — has been shown to reverse plaque buildup in the arteries. No other diet has. She recommends starting with one or two meals per week that are plant-based only. While she said it is never too late to make lifestyle changes, setting good habits early in life is easier and can make a world of difference.

“If they have a family history or they have a history of high cholesterol, that’s a vital time for prevention,” Bryan said. “Doctors don’t have nearly the amount of time to explain to adults even how important diet and exercise are – that has to be taught at home. For mom to only drink water and have plant-based meals a couple of times a week is an example for children.”

Bryan is a working mom of three young children, so she follows her own advice at home. She encourages meal planning as a way to avoid the drive through when life gets busy.

“Kids should understand that any food that comes through your window is bad food,” she said. “You are doing them a favor. The more you can do that as a mother — it’s better than anything you can give them or buy them.”

But Bryan said mothers need to make their own health a priority as well. She said building in time to exercise can be a challenge, but doing so shows its importance and can influence how children see the need for physical activity.

“They see exercise as a priority,” she said. “You have to schedule it like you schedule any meeting or extra-curricular activity. Everything you do is for your children, including taking care of yourself. The better you take care of yourself, the better you can care for your children.”

You Should Know

Don’t ignore these heart attack symptoms:

• Shortness of breath

• Back pain

• Jaw pain

• Nausea

(Source: American Heart Association, https://www.goredforwomen.org)

Watch this

Bryan recommends “Just a Little Heart Attack,” a video starring Elizabeth Banks, that illustrates heart attack symptoms that are common in women, but not commonly known. Watch the video online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7wmPWTnDbE.

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