Why Women Are at Our Highest Risk for Heart Disease, Ever
Heart Disease is on the rise this year—especially for women. Often thought of as a disease that has historically plagued men, recent studies have revealed that it is actually women at an increased risk for heart disease. While we’ve been busy stressing over critical illnesses for women, such as breast cancer, heart disease has become the leading cause of death in the United States—for both genders. CaroMont Health physician, Dr. David Major, adds that women’s risk for heart disease is “under-appreciated” compared to other health risks. In fact, cardiovascular diseases and stroke cause 1 in 3 women's deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds. That’s a significant number—and most women might not even know it.
So why is this news to so many of us? Research specifically focused on heart disease in women is relatively new because many of the assumptions about heart disease among women have come from studying it in men. Researchers are just now illuminating the medical and biological differences heart disease has on the different sexes. For instance, estrogen fights off the main causes of heart disease; and when women experience menopause, they lose a substantial dose of this natural preventative. Dr. Major adds, “In women, coronary heart disease (CHD) is under-recognized because women who suffer from CHD often present with atypical symptoms.”
Age isn’t everything, but it is something to note. Although most women who experience a heart attack are between the ages of 45-60, heart disease can begin development as early as your teenage years with the formation of blockages in your arteries called plaques. Stress, diet and lack of exercise can all contribute to this early onset. Still, “Clinically significant CHD does not typically occur in women until after menopause,” Dr. Major insists. Post-menopause is the most common time for women to start developing symptoms of heart disease. High blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol also increase our risk of heart disease. Dr. Major states, “The presence of hypertension increases the risk of a woman dying from CHD by ten times. Also, women who have high total cholesterol and low "good" cholesterol (HDL) are two-to-four times more likely to have a future cardiovascular event.”
CHD is, in fact, hereditary. Dr. Major adds: “A recognized risk factor for developing CHD is if you have a family history of early heart disease. Make sure to ask your immediate family members about their medical history.”
Dr. Major elaborates on CHD symptoms:
“The most common symptom for both women and men is some type of chest pain. The pain is often described as 'tightness' but can be sharp or burning. It is typically brought on by exercise but can also occur at rest or is brought on by stress. Other, more atypical symptoms include pain in the neck, arm or throat, trouble breathing, nausea or vomiting. Sometimes patients just feel weak or more tired than usual.”
A few easy steps for a healthier heart include:
- Quit Smoking. Smoking at any rate doubles your chances for heart disease. Even secondhand smoke negatively affects the body long term.
- Get Active. A short walk can go a long way. Just 30 minutes of easy exercises each day can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Eat Veggies. Get creative when meal planning. Avoid foods with trans fats, and add whole grains, vegetables and fatty fish to your diet.
- Keep Record. This is one of the most important habits to start practicing. Speak to your family physician about other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers is an important first step.
- Remain Calm. Manage your stress levels. Happiness can heavily reduce your risk for heart disease.
It’s vital for women to spread awareness of the increase of heart disease. Take action and share this blog post with other women in your life to encourage a healthy lifestyle among each other.