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What women need to know about heart disease

By Dr. Chetan Hampole • Jan 29, 2018 at 10:00 AM

National Wear Red Day is Friday, Feb. 2 and many people across the nation will raise awareness of women and heart disease by wearing red. Why? Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. In the United States, 1 in 4 women die of heart disease — a statistic that translates to one death every minute.

While those statistics are certainly sobering as a woman and a mother, there really are two ways you can take the news. Option one: Worry, worry and then worry some more. Option two: View it as a call to action to educate yourself about the disease and make lifestyle changes that will improve both your general health and lower your risk of heart disease.

Everyone in favor of option two — keep reading to take a look at what women need to know about heart disease.

Women tend to develop coronary artery disease about 10 years later than men do. Women lose natural estrogen as they age, which may contribute to a higher risk of heart disease. Other postmenopausal risk factors include changes in the walls of the blood vessels, making it more likely for plaque and blood clots to form. There is also evidence that LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) increases as women age while HDL cholesterol (the good kind) decreases. An increase in fibrinogen levels (a substance in the blood that helps the blood to clot) is also related to heart disease because it makes it more likely for blood clots to form, narrowing the arteries and reducing blood flow to the heart.

That was a bunch of bad news all at once, but now for the good news. Women can take control of their health and lower their risk of heart disease.

Here are the first steps to take:

• Quit smoking.

• Lose weight. What’s your ideal weight? Find out at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.

• Exercise 40 minutes per session 3-4 times per week.

• Follow a healthy diet. That means lots of fresh veggies and fruit, whole grains, fish and reduced red meat and alcohol consumption.

• Find healthy ways to reduce stress.

• Treat conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure that are known risk factors for heart disease.

There’s one other vitally important thing that women should know about heart disease. While women certainly can feel the crushing chest pain associated with heart disease, they are more likely than men to experience other less obvious, or so-called “atypical” heart attack symptoms such as sharp chest pain, pain in the neck/jaw/throat, nausea, sweating, lightheadedness and unusual fatigue. Because many women don’t interpret these sensations as a heart attack, women tend to downplay their symptoms and delay going to the emergency room. Almost two-thirds, or 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. So even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.

The risk of heart disease is very real for women. For more information on women heart disease, visit https://www.fishertitus.org/health/women-and-heart-disease.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Chetan Hampole is board-certified in cardiovascular disease. He is a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist and Fisher-Titus Cardiology Division Director at the Snyder/White Heart & Vascular Center.

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