Disease of the heart and circulatory system is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. More American women die every year from heart disease than the next 16 causes of death combined. The risk of developing heart disease increases as women age, particularly after menopause. Premenopausal women also are at risk for cardiovascular disease if they have cardiac risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and family history of early heart disease.
Risk factors for heart disease
The greatest preventable risk factors for cardiovascular disease are:
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
Other factors that play a role in heart disease for women that are different than men, include:
- Stress and Depression
- Low levels of estrogen due to menopause
- Being “apple shaped’ or carrying fat around the abdomen, combined with high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and triglycerides.
Having just one risk factor raises your chance of having heart-related problems. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop cardiovascular disease – and the more concerned you should be about protecting your heart health.
Plan to reduce your lifetime risk
The American Heart Association recommends the following measures for the prevention of cardiac disease in women:
- Women should not smoke, and should avoid environmental tobacco smoke.
- Women should exercise moderately at least 2½ hours per week; if able to perform vigorous or aerobic exercise, an additional 75 minutes per week is recommended.
- There is stronger evidence that additional cardiovascular benefits are provided by increasing exercise to 5 hours per week (including moderate and aerobic activity). The exercise should include muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups, and should be performed a minimum of two days per week, if physically able to do so.
- Women who are overweight or trying to maintain weight loss should exercise a minimum of 60 to 90 minutes on most and preferably all days of the week; this physical activity should be at least moderately-intensive (e.g., brisk walking).
- Women should eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole-grain, high-fiber foods and fish, especially oily fish at least twice a week; diet should limit intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, alcohol, sodium and sugar, and avoid trans-fatty acids.
- For weight management/loss, women should maintain or lose weight through an appropriate balance of physical activity, caloric intake and formal behavioral programs when indicated, to maintain or achieve an appropriate body weight.
If diagnosed with high cholesterol or elevated lipids, supplementing your diet with Omega-3 Fatty Acids-g omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish or capsule (e.g., eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] 1800 mg each day) may be recommended for prevention.
There is no clear evidence to recommend use of the following for cardiovascular disease prevention:
- Folic Acid with or without vitamin B6 and B12
- Antioxidant supplements such as vitamin C & E
- Hormone therapy and SERMS should not be used
Recommendations for Screening
See your health care provider for an annual preventive exam. At this visit you will be evaluated for changes in your weight, blood pressure and overall health. Based on your family history and risk factors, if you are at risk, or aged 45 or older, in addition to other blood tests that may be ordered, your provider will recommend a cholesterol panel.