Are women at risk?
Women are at risk for heart
disease and heart attacks, just like men. In fact, heart disease is the leading
cause of death among women over 65. American women are 4 to 6 times more likely
to die of heart disease than of breast cancer and it kills more women over 65
than all cancers combined. Women develop heart problems later in life than men
-- typically 7 or 8 years later. However, by about age 65, a woman's risk is
almost the same as a man's.
What do I need to know about heart disease
and heart attacks?
Women are less likely to
survive heart attacks than men. No one knows why. It may be that women don't
seek or receive treatment as soon as men. Or it may be because women's smaller
hearts and blood vessels are more easily damaged. Doctors are working on finding
answers to these questions. There's no question, however, that it makes sense to
prevent heart problems before they start.
What can I do
to protect myself?
For both men and women, the
biggest factors that contribute to heart disease are smoking, high blood
pressure, high cholesterol, family history and age. Take a moment to look at
your lifestyle, family history and your general health. With this information,
you and your family doctor can assess your risk and make a plan to avoid
potential problems. Although you can't do much about your family history or your
age, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid many of the other risk factors (see
is a major risk factor for heart disease in women. More than half of the heart
attacks in women under 50 are related to smoking. If you stop smoking, you can
lower your risk of heart attack by one third within 2 years. Women who smoke and
use birth control pills increase their risk even more. There are a variety of
products to help you quit smoking. You may want to try using nicotine skin
patches or nicotine gum: these types of medicines are available over the
counter. There are also prescription medicines available that can help you stop
smoking. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to quit smoking.
Breathing smoke from someone else's cigarettes is also bad for your heart and
lungs. If you live with someone who smokes, encourage him or her to
Control your blood
Treating high blood pressure can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Losing weight, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet are all ways to
help control high blood pressure. Reducing how much salt you consume can also
help. If these steps don't lower your blood pressure, your doctor may recommend
medicine for you to take.
Control your cholesterol
level. If you
don't know your level, ask your doctor to check it. Diet is a key part of
lowering high cholesterol levels. However, some people may need to take medicine
in addition to diet and exercise.
Maintain a healthy
weight puts strain on your heart and arteries. Exercise and a low-fat diet can
help you lose weight. Being overweight means you have a higher risk for many
other health problems, especially diabetes, high blood pressure and heart
disease. If you're overweight, talk to your doctor about a safe way to shed the
Remember, your heart is a muscle. It needs regular exercise to stay in shape.
Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, jogging or biking, gives your
heart the best workout. You can also use fitness equipment like exercise
bicycles, treadmills and ski machines when exercising indoors. Finding an
exercise partner may make it easier and safer for you to exercise often. You
should exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. Talk to your
doctor before starting an exercise program.
Eat a low-fat
diet. Keep fat
calories to 30% or less of the total calories you take in during a day and avoid
saturated fat (the fat in meats and coconut oil). Information is available to
help you make healthy choices. For example, food labels list nutrition
information, including fat calories, many cookbooks have heart-healthy recipes
and some restaurants serve low-fat dishes.
Take care of
you have diabetes, regular exercise, weight control, a low-fat diet and regular
doctor visits are important. If you need to take medicine for diabetes, be sure
to take it exactly as your doctor tells you to.
Be aware of chest
pain is not always caused by heart disease. Be sure to contact your doctor if
you suffer from pain in your chest, shoulder, neck or jaw. Also notify your
doctor if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on
Know your family
a father or brother with heart disease before age 55, or a mother or sister with
heart disease before age 65 are factors that contribute to heart disease. Inform
your doctor about your family history.
lower my risk of heart disease and heart attacks?
lower the risk of heart attacks in men. However, there is not enough evidence to
show that these medicines work as well in women who have never had a heart
attack. If you have already had a heart attack, cholesterol-lowering medicines
can lower your risk of another attack.
Taking an aspirin every day
may lower your risk of problems if you have coronary artery disease, a heart
attack or angina. Aspirin makes your blood thinner, so it is less likely to make
a blood clot. However, aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and other
problems. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for heart disease and
whether you should consider taking aspirin.
Angina is chest pain caused by
a sudden decrease in the blood supply to the heart. Medicines called statins,
beta blockers and ACE inhibitors may also help if you have heart problems. Ask
your doctor if any of these medicines are right for you.
replacement therapy reduce my risk for heart disease?
No. Estrogen replacement
therapy, also called hormone replacement therapy, can help minimize the symptoms
of menopause (such as hot flashes) and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis
(weakening of the bones). It was once thought that HRT could also help protect
against heart disease. New studies have shown that when it comes to heart
health, HRT actually does more harm than good. If youíre taking HRT to help
prevent heart disease, talk to your doctor about whether you should