Women: Show Your Heart Some Love
February belongs to the heart. Let this Valentine’s Day serve as a reminder to give your own heart the attention it deserves, not only this month, but also throughout the entire year.
Cardiovascular disease – or CVD – is the No. 1 cause of death and accounts for more deaths each year than the next seven causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer. Specifically, coronary heart disease and stroke – the no. 4 cause of death – kill nearly 400,000 women each year.1,2 Heart disease kills more women than men partly because their symptoms are often unrecognized.
The good news is that you do not have to become part of that statistic. You can make small but important changes to your lifestyle that will lead to a healthy heart.
What Increases a Woman’s Chance for Heart Disease?
Several important factors can increase a woman’s chance of developing heart disease. Your doctor should screen and treat you for these:
- blood sugar that is higher than normal
- diabetes during pregnancy – also called “gestational diabetes”
high blood pressure
- high blood pressure in pregnancy – also called “preeclampsia”
- high cholesterol
- overweight or obesity
Your doctor should also ask about your family history of heart disease. Although this cannot be changed, it is very important for your doctor to know.
What Women Should Know About the Signs of Heart Disease
As a woman, you may experience some of the “classic” signals of heart attack such as:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- pain in the arm
- tightness in the chest.
However, women are more likely to have less recognized symptoms of heart attack such as:
- abdominal or mid-back pain
What Women Should Know About Contraception and Menopause
Studies of oral contraceptives done on pills that had higher levels of estrogen and progestin than the ones commonly used today show that women who used the high-dosage pills had an increased risk of heart disease, especially if they were heavy smokers. Oral contraceptives were also linked with an increase in risk of stroke in women who had high blood pressure and smoked.
After menopause, women are more likely to have heart attacks than men are. Women typically develop heart disease up to 10 years later than men do, so it is important to be screened regularly for the risk factors for heart disease such as:
- high blood pressure.
Know Your Family History
In the battle to prevent heart disease, knowledge is one your strongest resources. Cardiovascular diseases are diseases of the heart and blood vessels that tend to have a strong genetic component, meaning that they occur in family members such as:
In order to protect yourself and the ones you love, ask your family questions about their heart health history. Then, you can build a heart health family tree that will help you and your doctor, as well as future generations of your family. To learn how to spot red flags and determine your history, visit the NetWellness feature, Your Family Heart Health History.
Relax Your Way to a Healthy Heart
It is natural for everyone to feel both physical and emotional stress. However, studies now show that there is an emerging relationship between stress and heart disease. Experiencing repeated stress might encourage:
- higher blood pressure
- higher cholesterol levels
- physical inactivity
By taking a few moments each day to manage your stress, you can reduce the likelihood of doing your heart harm and create a better life environment at the same time. Relaxation is possible; find the tools you need with the NetWellness feature, Reasons to Stress Less.
Let Your Heart Be Your Guide
The foods you eat have a great impact on your overall heart health, and recognizing foods that help versus hurt will go a long way towards having a healthy heart. Ideally, heart-smart diet should be balanced. This means choosing foods from all major food groups and emphasizing:
Avoid foods that are processed.
You can track your progress the next time you visit the doctor. Signs of problems in your diet and danger to your heart include:
- high triglycerides
- high LDL – or “bad” – cholesterol levels
- low HDL – or “good” – cholesterol levels
- high blood pressure.
If signs of trouble emerge, talk to your doctor and consider making changes to your diet. The resources page on NetWellness can help you stay on track with all of your heart smart goals!
1National Vital Statistics Reports, Deaths: Leading Causes for 2009.
2American Heart Association, Statistical Fact Sheet 2012 Update, Women and Cardiovascular Disease.
For more information:
Go to the Heart Health health topic.