With Valentine's Day approaching, our attention turns to matters of the heart. One area where women take the lead in this regard is heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer. A study conducted by AHA found that women's heart disease is on the increase and accounts for one out of three deaths in women per year.
With that in mind, it is important that you know your risk.
Heart Disease Risk Factors for Women
According to the Mayo Clinic, although the traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease - such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity - affect both women and men, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women.
These include things like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, mental stress and depression, smoking, high blood pressure, and low estrogen levels following menopause.
Heart disease is not restricted just to older women. Those under age 65, especially women with a family history of heart disease, need to pay close attention to the risk factors, said Mayo.
How to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Making lifestyle changes are the primary ways to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Here are some actions you can take starting now:
Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and stroke by two to four times, said AHA.
Here are some of the ways smoking damages your heart:
- Nicotine makes your heart rate and blood pressure skyrocket.
- Carbon monoxide and tobacco rob your heart, brain and arteries of oxygen.
- Smoking damages blood vessels and makes your blood sticky, which is a recipe for blood clots.
- It lowers your tolerance for physical activity and decreases HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Taking oral contraceptives further increases your blood pressure and risk for stroke and heart attack.
If you smoke, take steps to quit. When you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease and stroke can be cut in half in just one year and continues to decline until it is as low as a nonsmoker’s risk.
Exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week, or 60 to 90 minutes if you need to lose weight.
Check Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is considered a silent killer. It sneaks up on you, carries no symptoms and can put you at risk for heart disease, said AHA. Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your chance of getting a heart attack.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Eat a diet that's low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. Many women don’t check their cholesterol regularly because they think they have to. However, failure to know your numbers - especially LDL (the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides - only puts you at greater risk.
Take Prescription Medications Correctly
Take prescribed medications such as blood pressure pills, diabetes meds, blood thinners and aspirin appropriately, as not doing so puts you at higher risk.
Heart Attack Symptoms for Women
The most common heart attack symptom in women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. However, it is possible to experience a heart attack without chest pains. Mayo Clinic said that women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain.
Symptoms to watch out for include:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Right arm pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
Women's symptoms may occur more often when women are resting, or even when they're asleep, said Mayo.
This Valentine's Day, do something nice for your heart and start reducing the risks associated with heart disease. It may not be the most romantic thing you do this weekend, but you and everyone who cares about you will be glad you did.