Raise your awareness of heart disease and how you can lower your risk while boosting your health.
Heart disease is widespread in women. More women die from heart attacks every year than men. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S.
Research shows that women experience heart attack differently than men. Some women don’t feel chest pressure or pain when they have a heart attack. If you have these symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away:
There are actions you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease.
If you smoke, quit. This is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your overall health. Women who smoke are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than women who don’t, and your risk increases with each additional cigarette smoked per day.
Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight women are more likely to develop heart-related problems than women at a healthy weight, even if they have no other risk factors. The AHA guidelines for women recommend a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 and a waist circumference of less than 35 inches.
Make annual checkups a priority and follow your health care provider’s recommendations. All women over age 20 should have their blood cholesterol checked every four to six years, and their blood pressure checked every one to two years. If either reading falls outside the normal range, make appropriate lifestyle changes sooner rather than later.
Your cardiologist’s recommendations will depend on your personal health history and risk factors, the severity of your heart disease and the presence of other health conditions.
If you have a heart attack or a heart procedure, your doctor will probably recommend cardiac rehabilitation to help you recover, improve your overall health, and prevent future heart attacks.
The primary risk factors for heart disease in women are:
Family history plays a much smaller role than other risk factors. The presence of other risk factors can outweigh the influence of good genes.
Oral contraceptives used to have much more estrogen than they do today—those high-dose pills increased risk of heart and vascular disease, especially among women who smoked.
Today’s pills contain lower doses of estrogen, and though they still may increase a woman’s blood pressure, they generally don’t increase her risk of heart or vascular disease. The exception is for women who smoke—even with the low-dose pill, smoking boosts a woman’s risk of cardiovascular problems, particularly if she is over 35.
Estrogen helps keep the lining of the blood vessels thin and pliable. It may also help keep arteries free from plaque. When estrogen levels drop during menopause, these protective effects fade as well, and the risk of heart disease increases.
Yes. Exercise will help strengthen your heart muscle, lower your blood pressure, decrease cholesterol and keep your blood sugar in check. It also may help you manage your weight, reducing your risk of complications from heart disease. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program; follow his or her guidelines and recommendations.
Talk to a care navigator or schedule an appointment at the Women’s Health & Wellness Center.