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How Women Can Protect Themselves from Heart Disease

May 16, 2018

Dr. Pamela Marcovitz, director of the Ministrelli Women’s Heart Center at Beaumont, shares risk factors women should be aware of and healthy habits that can ward off heart disease.

Dr. Pamela Marcovitz

Almost one out of every four women will die of heart disease. However, we know that early detection and diagnosis are key to defeating this No. 1 killer of women.

Heart disease kills more women each year than cancer. Here are a few tips for women to learn how to protect themselves from heart disease.

Risk Factors for Women

Despite recent improvements in death rates for heart disease, women continue to be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease, a condition which claims more than 400,000 lives each year.  Yet, startlingly, research shows that heart disease is about 80 percent preventable with control of its risk factors.

Risk factors are things that make it more likely that a person will get heart disease; the more risk factors one has, the greater the chance of getting the disease. With the exception of family history, most of these factors can be changed to lower the threat.

To promote heart health, it’s important to understand risk factors, some of which play a bigger role among women than in men.

The following established risk factors for heart disease affect women at about the same rate as men:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • physical inactivity
  • obesity or overweight
  • family history
  • age greater than 55 for women (45 for men)
  • having untreated sleep apnea
  • overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the intestine

Risk factors that seem to have a bigger impact on women:

  • diabetes
  • cigarette smoking
  • stress
  • depression
  • chronic kidney disorders
  • metabolic syndrome
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • preeclampsia and pregnancy–related high blood pressure
  • elevated c-reactive protein (CRP)

Women’s risk for heart disease also tends to increase if they:

  • Miss regular check-ups with their physician.
  • Ignore their medical needs while caring for others.
  • Continue to think of heart disease as a “man’s disease,” ignoring possible symptoms.

Know Your Numbers

In addition to the factors above, there are five key numbers that will allow you and your health care provider to determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease.  This includes conditions such as angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. Schedule a visit with your health care provider to verify and understand your numbers:  total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). This will help you map out any lifestyle changes you should consider.

Ideal numbers for most adults are:

Total cholesterol and HDL — less than 200mg/dL and greater than 50mg/dL for women

Blood pressure — less than 120/80 mmHg

Fasting blood sugar — less than 100 mg/dL

Body Mass Index (BMI) — 18.5 kg/m2 to 25 kg/m²

Ways to Take Action

Once you know your risks, make sure to take action. Stay healthy by controlling several factors:

  • Manage your blood pressure: You reduce the strain on your heart, arteries and kidneys when your blood pressure remains in a healthy range.
  • Control your cholesterol: High cholesterol contributes to plaque, which can clog arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. Controlling your cholesterol will help your arteries remain clear of blockages.
  • Reduce blood sugar: Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can cause diabetes and damage your heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
  • Get active: Daily physical activity increases your length and quality of life.
  • Eat well: A healthy diet is one of your best weapons for fighting cardiovascular disease. A heart-healthy diet improves your chances for staying healthy.
  • Find a healthy weight: When you shed extra fat and unnecessary pounds, you reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton.
  • Stop smoking: Smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease isn’t something women should ignore. Understanding heart health can help lower risk and keep your heart healthy for years to come.

If you believe you may be at risk, there are medical centers dedicated to this women’s health concern, including the Ministrelli Women’s Heart Center at Beaumont Health. The center is a state-of-the-art facility with on-site diagnostic capabilities for heart disease in women including stress tests, EKGs, stress testing, echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds) and a variety of heart monitors to evaluate heart rhythm. The staff is dedicated to helping women get healthy and stay healthy in order to beat the odds of heart disease.

Dr. Pamela Marcovitz is a practicing, board certified cardiologist and director of the Ministrelli Women’s Heart Center at Beaumont, Royal Oak, the first women’s heart center in Michigan. Dr. Marcovitz is a supporter and past chairwomen of the American Heart Association Go Red for Women campaign.

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