Cardiovascular Disease in Women

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Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of women in America? More women die of cardiovascular disease each year than the next five causes of death combined. To put it into perspective, 1 in 3 women will eventually die from a cardiovascular cause. That’s one woman dying every minute.

Women are classified into three categories: high risk or at-risk of developing cardiovascular disease, or as having ideal cardiovascular health. Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, coronary artery disease, stroke, or chronic kidney disease place you in the high risk category.

Women considered to be “at-risk” have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Blood pressure greater than 120/80 or on blood pressure medication
  • Total cholesterol greater than 200 mg/dl, HDL less than50 mg/dl or on cholesterol medication
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Family history of coronary artery disease in a 1st degree relative (male < 55 years old, female < 65 years old)
  • Evidence of subclinical atherosclerosis (coronary calcium or carotid plaque seen on testing)
  • Metabolic syndrome – Three out of five conditions needed ( blood pressure > 130/85, fasting glucose > 100 mg/dl, waist circumference > 35 inches, fasting triglycerides > 150 mg/dl, HDL cholesterol < 50 mg /dl)
  • Collagen vascular disease (Rheumatoid arthritis, 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.

  • Recommendations for ideal cardiovascular health:
  • 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 than7% of your calories.
  • Fasting triglycerides less than 150 mg/dl
    • Decrease the amount of carbohydrates in your diet (white rice, potatoes, pasta, white bread).
  • Blood pressure less than 120/80 untreated
    • Limit your daily sodium intake to < 1500 mg and follow the DASH diet plan.
  • Fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dl untreated
    • Decrease the amount of carbohydrates in your diet (white rice, potatoes, pasta, white bread).
  • Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 25 kg/m2 and waist circumference < 35 inches
    • Obesity is the second most preventable cause of cardiovascular death. In a study of over 115,000 women, those who gained 44 lbs had 7 times the risk of dying from a cardiovascular cause compared to women who gained less than 44 lbs.
  • Abstinence from smoking
    • Smoking is the #1 preventable cause of cardiovascular death. Smoking 1-14 cigarettes a day triples your risk of having a heart attack.
  • Physical activity
    • Goal is 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise in at least 10 minute intervals. Strength training twice a week is recommended.
    • Exercise helps to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, improve your fasting blood glucose values and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Healthy Diet
    • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
    • Limit the amount of red meat you eat.
    • Limit 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 making 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.

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