When it comes to heart health, it’s clear that women underestimate their personal risk and think that heart disease is more likely seen in men. But, the number one killer for women is cardiovascular disease (CVD). Starting at age 75, the prevalence of heart disease is higher in women than men.
These can be broken down to non-modifiable or modifiable risk factors.
Non-modifiable risk factors: more than 55 years old, post-menopause, and family history of premature heart disease.
Modifiable risk factors: medical screening; lifestyle changes and medical intervention, when required, make a difference. These include hypertension, high LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), low HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), smoking, sedentary lifestyle, obesity (BMI less than 30), high fat diet and diabetes.
It’s important for women to know that the characteristic image of a ‘fist clutching at chest’ pain is not the common symptom for women. As many as 58% of women with angina experience dyspnea or shortness of breath, rather than the classic squeezing chest pain that radiates down the left arm. Other symptoms for women include: weakness 55%; fatigue 43%; cold sweat 39%; dizziness 39%; nausea 35%; heavy arms 35%; and aches in arms 32%.
What can women do?
- Be a non-smoker.
- Exercise a minimum of 30 minutes daily at least 5 days a week.
- Follow a heart healthy diet.
- Maintain a healthy BMI.
Being a non-smoker can reduce the risk of stroke by 81%. Regular exercise can lead to an 83% reduction in CVD death. A healthy diet and BMI within target can lessen the chance of developing diabetes by 90%, a potent risk factor for CVD.
Only 75% of women are aware of their blood pressure diagnosis and of those with the diagnosis, less than one third are treated adequately. With a minimal decrease of 6mm in blood pressure, there’s a 21% decrease in heart disease, a 42% decrease in stroke and a 14% decrease in acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).
The first thing I tell women in my practice, “Treatment choice is yours to make. And, lifestyle intervention is the proactive key.”
Ladies: at your regular yearly check up, make sure your blood pressure is recorded and your blood cholesterol, fasting blood glucose and an ECG are done. Know the role of your family history as a risk factor. Review with your physician what can be done to reduce and eliminate your risk of this number one killer. Your doctor will tell you how often to return for follow up.
Remember – the control of most of the risk factors is in your hands and it’s never too late to take charge! H&L
Dr. Marla Shapiro, Assoc. Prof., University of Toronto, Dept. of Family & Community Medi-cine; CTV’s Medical Consultant on CanadaAM; Globe and Mail health columnist.