Healthy Hearts Women’s Day 2 – Cardiovascular Disease

An estimated 515,000 women will have a new or recurrent myocardial infarction and fatal cardiovascular disease (CVDs) this year (2010). In 2006, 432,709 females died from all CVDs combined. The statistic represents 52.1% of female’s deaths for that year (35.3% white females; 35.9% black females). Notably, 64% of women who died suddenly from CVD did not have previous symptoms. [1]

CVDs are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessel. The most common reason for heart attacks and strokes, which are mainly caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or brain, is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart or brain. [2]

Top Health Risks for Women

Heart disease ranks as the number one health risk for women.
1. Heart disease
2. Cancer
3. Stroke
5. Alzheimer’s disease
6. Injuries
7. Type 2 diabetes
8. Flu
9. Kidney disease
10. Blood poisoning

Symptoms in Women

The most common heart attack symptom for women is pain or discomfort in the chest. However, women can also have a heart attack without having any chest pain. Other symptoms women might experience include[3]:
• Feeling out of breath
• Pain that runs along the neck, jaw, or upper back
• Nausea, vomiting or indigestion
• Unexplained sweating
• Sudden or overwhelming fatigue
• Dizziness
Risk Factors

The prevention of CVD starts with controlling risk factors for the disease. Although some risk factors are uncontrollable, such as family history of CVD or stroke; age 55 or older and being post-menopausal or having your ovaries removed, there are risk factors that we can control.
Controllable risk factors:
• Obesity
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Smoking
• Hypertension
• High total cholesterol, and/or reduced HDL cholesterol
• Diabetes
• Metabolic syndrome
• Increased C-reactive protein (CRP)
• Use of birth control pills, especially if also a smoker
• Complicated pregnancy (hypertension, diabetes, low birth weight)

Preventing Cardiovascular Heart Disease

There are many strategies that allow you to reduce your risk of or prevent heart disease. Although some risk factors, such as family history and age cannot be controlled, you have many options to help you maintain a healthier lifestyle. Here are some things you can control:
• Don’t smoke or use any tobacco products
o This is especially important for women because smoking not only affects your heart but negatively impacts your ability to become pregnant, increases your risk for oral and lung cancer and ages your skin. In addition, women who smoke and use birth control increase their risk of a heart attack.
• Get exercise
o Physical activity helps you control your weight and reduces stress on the heart and other medical conditions.
• Eat a heart healthy diet
o A well-balanced diet consisting of healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), fruits, vegetables, whole grains and limiting alcohol consumption.
• Maintain a healthy weight
o The majority of adults gain fat-not muscle-when the scale starts to creep up. Studies show that carrying excess fat in the mid-section is a risk factor for heart disease as well as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Regular exercise and a well-balanced diet will help you keep the scale in check.
• Get regular health screenings
o High blood pressure and cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels; regular screenings by a health professional will keep you informed and ready to take action to keep your heart healthy

Clinical Pearls

In summary, maintaining a healthy heart results in a better quality of life. Follow these simple guidelines to ensure your better health:
• Be aware of chest pain and other symptoms
• Know your family’s medical history and tell your clinician
• Maintain a healthy weight with regular diet and exercise
• Eliminate and/or reduce negative impact of risk factors, for example don’t smoke or quit smoking; control your blood pressure
• Remain educated about your body and health needs- start with the resources below!

Educational Resources
American Heart Association
Women’s Heart Foundation
National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease
Heart Truth
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

– Elizabeth Samander, PhD

1. American Heart Organization. Accessed June 18, 2010.
2. World Health Organization. Cardiovascular Diseases. Accessed June 18, 2010.
3. Accessed June 18, 2010.
4. May Clinic. Accessed June 18, 2010.

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