Heart Disease in Women

Risk Factors and Prevention

Heart disease develops over many years.  Some of the factors that increase your risk for developing heart disease are below.  If you already have heart disease, control as many risk factors as you can.  This can help keep your heart disease from getting worse. 
 
Smoking is the single most preventable risk factor. Women who smoke increase their heart disease risk two to four times more than that of a nonsmoking woman. You can do something about this risk factor. If you don’t smoke, don’t start! If you do smoke … find help and quit now!
 
High cholesterol in the blood can build up and lead to deposits that narrow arteries and block blood flow. There are two main types of cholesterol:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is often called “bad cholesterol” because it raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. 
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good cholesterol,” helps to remove cholesterol from the blood, and lowers the risk of heart disease. Research shows that low levels of HDL appear to be a stronger risk factor for women than for men. Losing extra weight, quitting smoking, and regular physical activity may help to boost HDL cholesterol levels. 

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most important risk factor for heart failure and stroke. Women have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure if they are 20 pounds or more over a healthy weight for their height and build, have a family history of high blood pressure, take certain oral contraceptives, or have reached menopause. More than half of all women over the age of 55 suffer from this condition. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked at least every two years.

High blood pressure can be reduced by:

  • Reducing the sodium (salt) in your diet 
  • Maintaining normal body weight 
  • Limiting alcohol consumption 
  • Increasing physical activity 
  • Taking prescribed medications 

Physical inactivity is also a risk factor, especially when combined with excess weight and high cholesterol. About three-fourths of American women are not active enough to keep their hearts healthy. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise a day on most days will help gain heart health benefits.
 
Being overweight (obesity) increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Excess body weight in women is linked with coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, and death from heart related causes.
 
Diabetes mellitus is a condition where the body is unable to either produce or respond to the hormone insulin. Women with diabetes have from three to seven times greater risk of heart disease and heart attack, and are at much greater risk of having a stroke. Diabetes doubles the risk of a second heart attack in women, but not in men.

Other risk factors for women:

  • Menopause and estrogen loss 
  • Birth control pills 
  • High triglyceride levels 
  • Excessive alchohol intake 

Diet

Learning to make smart choices in your diet will help keep weight down, decrease cholesterol and combat hypertension. This is achieved by eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, high fiber foods, lean meats and poultry, fish at least twice a week, and fat-free or 1% fat dairy products.

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