Do Women Need to Worry About Heart Health?
Let's begin with a very unsettling statistic. Heart attacks kill about six times as many women each year as breast cancer. As a whole, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, accounting for roughly 1 in 5 female deaths.
So why do most women worry about breast cancer more than they worry about heart disease? Both are deadly, but there is much less awareness among women about the danger posed by heart disease.
One of the most critical misconceptions about our hearts is that men are more susceptible to heart problems than women. This is simply not the case. While heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, it is a health issue that doesn't discriminate by sex. Women tend to be older than men by about 10 years when they first present heart disease symptoms. Two-thirds of women who die suddenly from coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. And about 1 in 16 women over the age of 20 have coronary heart disease, which is the most common heart disease type.
It's time to put a spotlight on women's heart health and focus on defensive strategies. Here, we will cover what heart disease is and suggestions that women should adopt to stay healthy.
What is heart disease, anyway?
While it's easy to think of heart disease as a single issue, it is a broad term that includes heart rhythm issues, heart attack, coronary disease and others. There are different types of heart disease and separate problems that cause it.
For example, heart rhythm disorder or heart arrhythmia is a form of heart disease where there is a problem with the heartbeat's rhythm. It can be caused by a congenital heart defect present at birth or something we play a role in, like smoking, stress or taking certain substances or medicines. Heart failure is a severe form of heart disease that occurs after the heart has been weakened. High blood pressure and heart attacks are the two most common causes of heart failure.
As a woman, what can I do to reduce my chances of developing heart disease?
The good news for both men and women is that everyone can take specific controllable steps to manage their heart disease risk. Up to 80% percent of heart attacks can be prevented by controlling modifiable risk factors.
Patients can control their heart health include exercising the following valuable pieces of advice.
- Understand and modify your risk of heart disease. We can't change some heart disease risk factors like increasing age and family history. But we can modify other risk factors with lifestyle changes or medication. These modifiable risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, smoking and diabetes. High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can also increase your risk.
- Get screened. Talk to your primary care physician about your heart health. Essential screenings for monitoring heart health include blood pressure tests, blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) tests and a fasting lipoprotein profile to test cholesterol. These diagnostic tests can help determine your long-term risk and identify possible lifestyle changes to reduce your future risk of developing heart disease.
- Move around and exercise. Exercising regularly is key to keeping your heart healthy. The American Heart Association recommends a weekly exercise goal of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity. One easy trick is to aim to exercise thirty minutes a day, five times a week. Wearable tracking devices that log your progress or vibrate when you've been sitting too long can help keep you on track. Joining a group exercise class can also help motivate you.
- Eat healthfully. Make smart choices about the types of foods you eat. Instead of sugary snacks, reach for fruits, vegetables, poultry, whole grains and dairy. Avoid sauces and dressings, which can be full of hidden sugars and calories.
- Understand the role that menopause plays in heart disease. Studies show that a woman's risk of a heart attack increases about 10 years after menopause. It's thought that a decline in the natural hormone estrogen may be a factor. Hence, regular screening is important.
Take the first steps toward a healthy heart. Visit ochsner.org/heartmonth
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Oct. 23, 2018.