What Women Need to Know About Heart Disease
February is Heart Health Month. While many of us are focusing on heart-shaped chocolates and other Valentine's Day treats, this month is also dedicated as a time to build awareness for the risks factors and symptoms of heart disease.
The leading cause of death in women
When it comes to heart disease, many women wrongly assume the risk is greater for men than for women. In fact, the American Heart Association states that only 44% of women are aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. That's right, the leading cause of death. Not breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, or other age-related chronic health conditions. Heart disease.
1 in 5 women will die from heart disease, and 1 in 3 women is living with heart disease right now. And it's not just older women who are at risk. 45% of women over the age of 20 are living with some form of heart disease, a statistic I find startling!
While the statistics sound scary, heart disease can be prevented for many. Knowing and understanding your risk factors is the first step in prevention. Certain risk factors like age, genetics, and race can't be controlled, but your diet, exercise, and how you handle stress can all play a significant role in whether you develop heart disease or not.
Menopause and heart disease
Women tend to develop heart disease later in life than men, with significant increases in risk during midlife and the menopause transition. This led to the belief that menopause is a risk factor for developing heart disease.
Over the last 20 years, many studies have looked at the relationship between menopause, changing hormone patterns, and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. It turns out that estrogen can impact heart disease risk in several ways. Estrogen:
Positively impacts blood cholesterol levels
Relaxes blood vessels to improve blood flow
Promotes blood clot formation
Natural antioxidant that fights free radical damage in the arteries
It's no wonder that a decline in this hormone would cause a change in risk for heart disease.
Many of the symptoms women experience during menopause can also increase our risk.
Experiencing hot flashes has been linked to insulin resistance, greater risk of hypertension, and dyslipidemia.
Depression, anxiety, and poor sleep often accompany the hormonal shifts at this time and are all independent risk factors for developing heart disease.
Increased body weight and abdominal body fat are known risk factors for heart disease.
With so many risk factors associated with menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) became a popular treatment to help lower risk. Unfortunately, studies showed that it might increase the risk of heart disease, and it should not be used to prevent heart attack or stroke.
HRT may still be beneficial for helping to manage many of the symptoms of menopause. If you want to learn more about HRT, you should work with a practitioner who is well versed in using it to treat the symptoms of menopause.
Regardless of menopause or HRT, there are other things you can do to keep your heart healthy.
Your healthy heart checklist
Heart disease can be prevented. This checklist will help you keep your heart healthy, no matter what stage of life you are in.
Know your risk factors - be sure to work with your healthcare provider to understand your risk factors. Regular heart health screenings should be part of your health maintenance routine.
Manage your stress levels - life is stressful enough without our hormones taking a toll on our mood. Practicing stress management techniques like yoga, breathwork, or meditation can be a big help.
Get plenty of exercise - regular physical activity is key to preventing heart disease. Finding ways to move that you enjoy will help you to stay consistent.
Get help for menopausal symptoms - don't suffer through the symptoms of menopause. Whether it's hot flashes, changes in mood, libido, or weight, there is help.
Eat a heart-healthy diet. A diet full of fruits and vegetables, heart-healthy fats, and lots of fiber is critical in preventing heart disease. Let me help you create a sustainable eating plan tailored personally for you. Schedule an appointment today.