Women and Heart Disease: Know Your Numbers
It’s always important to take time to bring awareness of heart and cardiovascular disease because it is the leading cause of death for both men and women — particularly those over age 50.
“It’s critically important for women to realize that heart disease can happen to them, and that everyday choices about diet and fitness make a difference,” said Dr. Nina Asrani, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and at Consultants in Cardiology, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “Women can help themselves by living healthy, active lifestyles, maintaining a healthy diet and working alongside their physician.”
Women have a higher risk for heart disease because they’re less likely to suspect heart disease in themselves — and often dismiss symptoms. Women also may have symptoms that are less specific — feeling tired or short of breath, aching in their arms or jaws — and attribute these to other causes.
While basic risk factors for heart disease are generally the same between men and women — hypertension, high cholesterol, family history, smoking and diabetes — since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and stroke, and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen, according to the American Heart Association.
“It’s important to assess your overall risk of heart disease, as that determines how aggressively risk factors like high cholesterol should be treated,” Asrani said. “Controlling diabetes cannot be overemphasized, especially in women. It’s a giant risk factor.”
KNOW YOUR NUMBERS
The American Heart Association recommends that patients know and manage their critical health numbers, which can include developing a plan with their physician that may include diet, exercise and medication.
- Blood pressure — A number over 140/90 is generally considered hypertension, and may warrant medications.
- Cholesterol — A routine fasting blood test can tell you your cholesterol. You want a low LDL (lousy cholesterol), and a higher HDL (healthy cholesterol). This should be discussed with your doctor, who can advise on diet and medications if needed.
- Blood sugar — An elevated fasting blood sugar will diagnose diabetes.
- Weight — Know your body-mass index and your waist circumference, as carrying extra weight in your belly confers a higher risk of heart disease.
- Get moving — The recommendation is 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate exercise a week, but any little amount of extra activity helps. Studies show that the more you exercise, the less likely you are to die of heart disease, regardless of whether it helps you lose weight.
To find out if you are at risk for heart disease and to learn your numbers, visit YourHeartAge.com.
Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.