Have you ever wondered why heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in American women? In order to recognize risk factors and warning signs, it’s important to understand the unique genetic differences that impact heart health.
Heart disease includes numerous problems, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the pathway, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Many women are not aware that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and may believe that other diseases, like breast cancer, are bigger threats. This lack of awareness causes some women to focus their preventative health measures on screenings that are not associated with detecting heart disease risk factors. Data shows that if women have just one risk factor — like high blood pressure, smoking or being overweight — their risk of heart disease doubles. One-third of women still underestimate their own personal risk of getting heart disease.
Women can find out if they are at risk or have heart disease by visiting their primary care physician or nurse practitioner regularly to check their cholesterol levels, weight and blood pressure. During these visits, a physician will investigate any symptoms of shortness of breath, chest pain, tiredness or nausea as soon as they occur.
The risk of heart disease increases as you age. There is a greater risk of heart disease for women over age 55. It is believed that estrogen, a female hormone, provides protection to the heart until natural menopause when the estrogen level goes down. Women and men have the same risk of heart disease by the age of 60 to 65. You also are at greater risk if you have a close family member who had heart disease at an early age.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of heart disease.
•Know your blood pressure and keep it under control.
•Stop smoking or don’t start. Smoking is the most dangerous, yet most reversible, risk factor for heart disease.
•Get tested for diabetes and, if needed, keep it under control.
•Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and keep them under control.
•Eat fruits and vegetables.
•Maintain a healthy weight.
•Stop eating trans fats. Synthetically created to extend the shelf life of baked goods and snack foods, trans fats can raise your level of LDL, or bad, cholesterol.
•Stop adding salt. A lower-salt diet can lower your blood pressure by five points.