Take Heart

Many people think heart disease is a man’s problem. However, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and a leading cause of disability among women. The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to get heart disease. But women of all ages should be concerned about heart disease, and all women can take steps to prevent it by practicing healthy lifestyle habits.

Cardiac Health for Women

By Jenni Frankenberg Veal

The most common cause of heart disease is coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, or the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart itself. This blockage is the major reason people have heart attacks, so prevention is important. Two-thirds of women who have a heart attack fail to make a full recovery.

The American Heart Association has released new guidelines for the prevention of heart disease, and experts recommend that every woman know her risk level.

What is Your Risk Level for Heart Disease?

Ideal Cardiovascular Health: The marks of a healthy heart include blood pressure less than 120/80 mm Hg, total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL, fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL and not on medicine for blood sugar, and a body mass index less than 25 kg/m2.

At Risk: Women have a higher risk of heart disease if they smoke cigarettes, have a poor diet, do not get regular physical activity, are overweight or obese, have a family history of heart or vascular disease, have blood pressure higher than 120/80, have abnormal cholesterol levels, have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, or have metabolic syndrome.

High Risk: Women have a high risk of heart disease if they have an existing coronary heart disease (heart attack, bypass surgery, heart stents), carotid artery disease (narrowed or blocked arteries that take blood to your brain), blocked arteries in the legs, an abdominal aortic aneurysm (weakness in the artery in the abdomen), or chronic kidney disease and diabetes.

Preventative Measures

Women can lower their risk of heart disease if they have a non smoking lifestyle, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high-fiber foods. It also helps to eat fish (especially oily fish twice a week or more), limit saturated fat, cholesterol, alcohol, sodium, sugar, and avoid transfatty acids altogether.

Do You Have Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is not a disease itself, but a group of risk factors including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat. These risk factors double a person’s risk of blood vessel and heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. Metabolic syndrome also increases a person’s risk of diabetes by five times.

According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a person has metabolic syndrome if they have three of the following five factors: a waist greater than 35 inches, triglycerides higher than 150 mg/dL, HDL (good cholesterol) less than 50 mg/dL, blood pressure higher than 130/85 mm Hg, and fasting blood sugar higher than 100 mg/dL.

Lifestyle modification is the preferred treatment of metabolic syndrome. Weight reduction usually requires a specifically tailored program that includes diet and exercise. Sometimes, medications may be useful.