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Waving a red flag about women and heart disease

Waving a red flag about women and heart disease

When you see a heart attack depicted on TV, it often shows a man experiencing serious chest pain. If that’s what comes to mind when you think about heart health, you’ll want to keep reading to learn about women and heart disease.

To change the perception that heart disease and heart attacks are “male” diseases, there’s a day in February set aside to raise awareness—National Wear Red Day.

The University Medical Center New Orleans team is here to share what you need to know about women and heart disease.

What to know about women and heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women. In fact, one in three American women dies of some type of heart disease in any given year.

While it’s a significant threat to women’s health, many women don’t recognize the risk. It’s important for women to keep a careful eye on their health by knowing their risk factors for heart disease and how to protect the heart.

Understanding your risk of heart disease

Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, isn’t a single condition. Heart disease is an umbrella term that encompasses many different conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart failure.

They all share some common risk factors, including some specific to women. Most American women between the ages of 40 and 60 have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Being excessively stressed
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating a diet filled with saturated fat, excess sodium and added sugar
  • Having diabetes
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking

Beyond these risk factors, there are also some specific risk factors for heart disease in women. Starting menstrual periods before age 11, beginning menopause before age 40, having a preterm delivery or delivery of a baby with a low or high birth weight, having polycystic ovary syndrome, or having diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy can all increase the risk of developing heart disease.

A woman’s guide to protecting her heart

The good news is that you can take action to protect your health. Start here:

Know the signs of an emergency. Heart attack symptoms include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, pain in the neck, jaw, back, abdomen or arm, a cold sweat, lightheadedness, and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely than men to have less-obvious symptoms, including shortness of breath, vomiting, or back and neck pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911.

Commit to being more active. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking or jogging each week.

Choose your foods wisely. Make fruits and vegetables the foundation of your diet, then add small portions of lean protein and whole grains. Choose healthy fats, like those found in avocado, nuts or fatty fish. Limit your intake of foods high in sodium, added sugar and saturated fats.

Don’t smoke and limit your alcohol consumption. Smoking and alcohol can have harmful effects on your heart health. If you smoke, work with your provider to find a cessation strategy. If you drink, limit yourself to a maximum of one drink per day.

Get enough quality sleep. Most Americans do not get enough sleep on a regular basis, which can harm your overall health and your heart. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

Seeing your primary care provider regularly is also an important part of protecting your heart. If it’s been a while since you had a checkup, make it a priority this year.

Ready to get to the heart of the matter? Schedule an appointment with a cardiovascular specialist at University Medical Center New Orleans.