Millions of women around the country live with cardiovascular disease and may not know it. The consequences of being uninformed can be fatal.
According to the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease, heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women. More women die from heart disease than breast cancer in any given year, and the Public Health Agency of Canada says that heart disease is the leading cause of death among Canadian women over the age of 55. That's a frightening reality that might surprise some.
What puts women at risk?
There are a number of factors that can put a woman at risk for heart disease.
* Hypertension: High blood pressure can exert extra stress on blood vessel walls and make them more likely to get clogged.
* Cholesterol levels: Cholesterol in the blood can build up on the inside of blood vessels and lead to blockages that can cause a number of different problems.
* Smoking: Women who smoke have a higher risk of heart attacks than nonsmoking women. Those who smoke and take birth control pills are at an even higher risk.
* Obesity: The chance for heart disease increases with a woman's weight. Even losing a little bit of weight can help diminish the chance.
* Diabetes: High blood sugar can damage the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
* Family history: A woman with blood relatives who were diagnosed with heart disease is at a heightened risk of developing heart disease.
* Lack of physical exercise: Inactivity can promote heart disease. Daily physical activity can go a long way to help the heart and prevent heart disease.
Preventing heart disease
Recognizing the risk factors for heart disease is just the beginning when it comes to prevention. Once those risk factors are known, it's up to women to take steps to live a more healthy lifestyle. Fortunately, there are many ways women can do just that.
* Exercise daily. Thirty minutes of exercise per day is recommended. This can improve cardiovascular health by getting the blood moving through the body. It can also help women lose weight, decreasing risk for other ailments as a result.
* Quit smoking. Do not use tobacco products. Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing heart disease. Smoking narrows the arteries in your heart and can also contribute to the hardening of arteries, called atherosclerosis. This condition can ultimately lead to a heart attack. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in the blood, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can raise blood pressure and force your heart to work harder.
* Eat healthy. Eating foods that are low in cholesterol and sodium can help with heart disease risk. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, and other sources of whole fiber can help. Consumption of fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, is also beneficial.
* Maintain a healthy weight. A doctor or nutritionist can help you determine a healthy weight for your body type and height. Most use calculations to determine a body mass index, or BMI, which considers certain factors, including height and weight, to determine if you have a proper amount of body fat. Waist circumference is also a tool used to measure how much abdominal fat a person has.
* Go to the doctor regularly. A doctor can run certain tests to discover any red flags for potential heart problems. He or she will check blood pressure, cholesterol levels, conduct screenings for diabetes, and discuss family history. With all of this information, the doctor will be able to make certain assumptions about heart disease risk and guide you on the path to finding a program that will be effective for you.
Although heart disease is the foremost killer of women in North America, it can largely be prevented and risk factors managed with adequate health care. Women living with any of the aforementioned risk factors should make an appointment with their doctor to determine a course of action.