Heart disease is the leading killer of women over the age of 25 in the United States. If you weren’t aware of this, you’re not alone. According to the American Heart Association, only 13% of women consider heart disease to be a major health concern. Why do many women remain unaware that heart disease is a threat to their health?
There are several possible reasons for the overall lack of awareness regarding women and heart disease:
- Until recently, medical research related to heart disease has focused primarily on men.
- Heart disease symptoms are different for women and men, and may be more subtle in women.
- Sometimes when women experience symptoms such as angina, heart palpitations and fatigue, these symptoms may be misdiagnosed as being stress-related.
It is important that all women understand their risk factors for heart disease and take steps to reduce their risk.
How Likely Are You to Develop Heart Disease? The American Heart Association has created guidelines that are designed to help women gauge their risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, within the next 10 years.
High risk (a woman who has a greater than 20% likelihood of having a cardiac event in the next 10 years) Women who have a history of heart disease, stroke, vascular disease in their legs, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or abdominal aortic aneurism (AAA) are considered to be high risk.
Intermediate risk (a woman who has a 10 to 20% likelihood of having a cardiac event in the next 10 years)
Women with metabolic syndrome, several heart risk factors, a family history of early heart disease or calcium in coronary arteries are referred to as having intermediate risk.
Lower risk (a woman who has less than a 10% likelihood of having a cardiac event in the next 10 years)
Women who have the lowest risk have none of the aforementioned health conditions and one or less risk factors for heart disease.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Developing Heart Disease?
There are some risk factors for heart disease that can’t be controlled, including your family history, your age and having had a prior cardiovascular event. Fortunately, there are many positive lifestyle choices you can make that can help reduce your odds of developing heart disease.
It’s quite simple - if you smoke, you should quit. Smoking greatly increases a woman’s chances of developing heart disease, as well as several other serious health conditions.
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that women aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 and a waist that is smaller than 35 inches. Please visit our section on managing weight to learn how making simple changes to your diet and exercise routine can help you lose weight.
Women who are trying to shed excess pounds should try to get at least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Women who are trying to maintain their current weight should get at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days each week. Learn more about exercising for your heart.
Follow a heart-healthy diet.
A heart-healthy diet is one that is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, lean cuts of white meat poultry, fish, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Click here to learn more about heart-healthy eating.
Keep other health conditions under control.
Several other health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression, have all been linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease. If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions, you should work carefully with your family physician to keep them under control.