Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in America. More women die of cardiovascular disease each year than the next five causes of death (cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease) combined. One in three women will eventually die from a cardiovascular cause, which is the equivalent of one woman dying every minute.
In Louisiana, heart disease and stroke represent nearly 31% of all female deaths, and close to 17 women die from these two conditions each day. Heart patients are generally classified into one of three categories: high-risk for heart disease or heart failure, at-risk for developing cardiovascular disease, or as having ideal cardiovascular health. Certain medical conditions like diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, coronary artery disease, stroke, or chronic kidney disease determine one’s placement in the high-risk health category, while a family history of these conditions can influence one’s at-risk status.
Women with one or more of the following risk factors are considered to be at-risk for heart disease:
- Cigarette smoking
- Blood pressure greater than 120/80
- Currently taking blood pressure medication
- Total cholesterol greater than 200 mg/dl or HDL of less than 50 mg/dl
- Currently taking cholesterol medication
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Family history of coronary artery disease in a first-degree relative (mother/ father, siblings, or child)
- Evidence of coronary calcium or carotid plaque after testing (subclinical atherosclerosis)
- Metabolic syndrome. Three out of five conditions needed including blood pressure greater than 130/85, fasting glucose less than 100 mg/dl, a waist circumference greater than 35 inches, fasting triglycerides greater than 150 mg/dl or HDL cholesterol less than 50 mg /dl.
- Collagen vascular disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or Lupus.
- History of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, or pregnancy-induced hypertension
The good news is that 80% of heart attacks in women are preventable by making healthy lifestyle changes. Ideal cardiovascular health can often be achieved by following a set of lifestyle changes related to dietary nutrition, exercise, and eliminating unhealthy behaviors such as smoking. These changes include:
A goal total cholesterol of less than 200 mg /dl. Limit your total daily cholesterol to less than 150 mg and your total daily saturated fat to less than 7% of your calories.
Fasting triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl. Decrease the number of carbohydrates in your diet (white rice, potatoes, pasta, white bread).
Blood pressure less than 120/80 untreated. Limit your daily sodium intake to less than 1500 mg and follow the DASH diet plan.
Fasting blood glucose of less than 100 mg/dl untreated. Decrease the number of carbohydrates in your diet (white rice, potatoes, pasta, white bread).
Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 25 kg/m2 and a waist circumference of fewer than 35 inches.
Obesity is the second most preventable cause of cardiovascular death. In a study of over 115,000 women, those who gained 44 pounds had 7x the risk of dying from a cardiovascular cause compared to women who gained less than 44 lbs.
Abstinence from smoking. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of cardiovascular death. Smoking 1-14 cigarettes a day triples your risk of having a heart attack.
Regular physical activity. Exercise helps to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, improve your fasting blood glucose values, and maintain a healthy weight. The standard goal is 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise in at least 10-minute intervals. Strength training twice a week is also recommended.
Healthy Diet. Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Limit the amount of red meat you eat as well as sugar and trans fatty acids like baked goods or foods fried in partially hydrogenated oil.
Remember that most cardiovascular risk factors are under your control to improve. Empower yourself by taking the time to see your doctor at least once a year, know your risk factors, and know the steps you can take to lower your risk.