According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States and accounts for 1 in 5 fatalities.
Still, women often see other illnesses, such as breast cancer, as more of a risk. While they are very diligent in setting up appointments for mammograms and pap smears, they neglect routine heart screenings.
This February, for American Heart Month, we’d like to highlight the unique risks women face regarding heart health. Keep reading to learn more.
Women and heart disease
Some risk factors for heart disease – diabetes, hypertension, and smoking, to name a few – are universal. Whether you’re a man or a woman, they can apply. Women have several unique risk factors of their own, though.
For example, women can have a greater possibility of developing heart disease while pregnant or after having been pregnant – especially if they experience hypertension or gestational diabetes. The premature onset of menopause or starting your period early are also considered risk factors, and stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s.
As a woman, it’s important to let your doctor know about your family’s cardiac history AND any other related factors like reproductive issues or mental health concerns.
Six things women should know about heart health
The American Heart Association says that 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease at some point in their lives. Women aged 40 – 60 are at the highest risk, as it’s a volatile time often marked by the start of menopause, changes in body composition, and an increase in cholesterol levels.
Still, 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable.
These are the tips offered by the AHA:
- Get annual checkups. It’s essential to see your doctor for an annual physical to assess heart-health risk and take necessary action. Prepare for the appointment by knowing your numbers, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, and write down your family history.
- Know the symptoms of a heart attack. Women’s heart symptoms don’t always fall into the well-known spectrum of “chest pressure, chest discomfort, and shortness of breath.” Often, women have vaguer symptoms like back pain, fullness in the stomach, and nausea. It’s important to be aware of ALL the signs of an impending heart attack.
- Tell your doctor if you had pregnancy complications. Complications like diabetes and hypertension during pregnancy and early delivery are linked to cardiovascular disease later in life.
- Get enough sleep. Less than six or seven hours of sleep a night is connected to heart disease, high blood pressure, and increased weight gain.
- Keep stress in check. Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overeating, and other factors that influence heart health.
- Find a health partner. Find a friend or family member that you can partner with to get physically and mentally healthy. Try walking together, taking yoga classes, or just having a weekly conversation to vent and de-stress.