While it is true that men generally suffer from heart disease at an earlier age, it was not recognized until recently that women suffer from heart disease in greater numbers than men later in life.
There are several controllable risk factors that women can monitor to take charge of their heart health:
According to a recent survey by the Society for Women's Health Research, less than one-third of women know their cholesterol number. A person’s total cholesterol is made up of low density lipoproteins (LDL), high density lipoproteins (HDL), and triglycerides, another fatty substance found in the blood. A desirable level of total cholesterol is less than 200. Some research indicates that low levels of HDL cholesterol and high triglyceride levels are a stronger risk factor for women than they are for men.
- Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and the most important risk factor for stroke. It is particularly important for African American women, who are more likely to have hypertension than are Caucasian women
- Sedentary Lifestyle
Quite simply, the absence of physical activity can be damaging to your heart. Some studies show that heart disease is almost twice as likely to develop in sedentary people as it is in those who are more active.
Women with diabetes have between two to six times the risk of developing heart disease and are at much greater risk of having a stroke than women without diabetes.
Being overweight can lead to high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It is also a risk factor by itself for heart disease.
The good news is that there are ways to combat these risks. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight are extremely important. Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats is also important. Quitting smoking and not using tobacco products can also help to prevent heart disease.
The Society reminds you to speak with your health care provider about monitoring your cholesterol and blood pressure levels to check for any changes. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone 20 and older should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years.
Taking charge of these risk factors early in life can make a big difference to your heart health as you age.