It’s not uncommon to see and hear a lot about hearts all throughout the month of February. And it’s not just because of cupid! In addition to celebrating Valentine’s Day, February is also American Heart Month, which calls attention to the fact that an adult suffers a heart attack every 34 seconds, according to the Heart Foundation.
Although heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the U.S., heart disease in women is much more common and deadly. The Heart Foundation estimates that 90 percent of women have at least one risk factor for heart disease, and more women than men have died due to heart disease every year since 1984.
By speaking with your doctor about the various signs of heart problems, you can work together to lower your heart disease risk, but it’s also important that we understand why women are at a higher risk of this life-threatening chronic condition.
The Risk of Heart Disease in Women
Similar to men, there is a greater heart disease risk among women as they age, but there are also several other factors that increase a woman’s risk, including:
- Menopause. Heart disease in women becomes much more common after menopause. With your body producing less estrogen, heart disease is more likely to develop, especially in the smaller blood vessels.
- Inactivity. While inactivity increases your heart disease risk regardless of your gender, some research has shown that women tend to be more inactive than men.
- Mental stress. Women’s hearts are actually more affected by mental stress and depression than men’s. In fact, suffering from depression makes it much more difficult to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, increasing your risk of experiencing signs of heart problems.
- Smoking. Cigarette smoke has a negative impact on everyone’s heart and lungs, but smoking is a much greater heart disease risk factor for women than men.
All of these factors greatly increase the risk of heart disease in women, but there are other risk factors that affect both men and women, like age, race and ethnicity, alcohol abuse and family history.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor to Determine Your Heart Disease Risk
Although women have a greater heart disease risk than men, there are steps you can take to lower that risk and promote your heart health. If you’re unsure where to start, one of the best resources available to you is your doctor. Not only will they be able to determine your heart disease risk, but they will also be able to recommend the right cardiologist for you.
Even if you’ve never displayed any signs of heart problems, it’s still important that you ask your doctor these questions so you can maintain your heart health as you age:
Do I have high blood pressure?
When you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder than normal, which damages your arteries and puts you at risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke or another coronary emergency. When your doctor measures your blood pressure, which should be done at every appointment, here are the numbers to look out for:
- Normal: less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic
- High: 140 or higher systolic and 90 or higher diastolic
The tricky part about measuring blood pressure, however, is that it can fluctuate, so if high blood pressure runs in your family, consider investing in a home blood pressure monitor. Checking your blood pressure regularly will help both you and your doctor determine if you really do have high blood pressure and if your treatment is effective or not.
Is my cholesterol at a healthy level?
When cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it reduces blood flow and increases the risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Although our bodies need cholesterol, it’s important to remember that our bodies actually make all of the cholesterol it needs to function properly, so consuming too much cholesterol will only damage your heart health.
When your doctor measures your total cholesterol, here are the numbers to look out for:
- Total cholesterol:
- Normal: less than 200mg/dl
- High: 240mg/dl
Is my body mass index (BMI) within a healthy range?
Carrying excess weight puts a strain on your heart, which over time, will not only increase your heart disease risk, but it will also raise your blood pressure, cholesterol and your risk for diabetes. The good news, however, is that losing as little as 10 pounds will benefit your heart health.
Plus, you don’t have to wait for your doctor’s appointment to find out if you’re at a healthy or unhealthy weight -- calculating your BMI is something you can do right in your own home! The American Heart Association outlines the exact steps to calculate your BMI:
- Multiply your weight in pounds by 703
- Divide by your height in inches
- Divide that number by your height in inches again’
Once you’ve calculated your BMI, here are the following ranges:
- Normal: less than 25
- Overweight: between 25 and 29.9
- Obese: 30 or higher
You can then bring your results to your doctor who will help you determine your next steps.
Asking your doctor these questions will play a huge role in identifying signs of heart problems, but there are some other simple things you can do in your daily life that will promote your heart health, like exercising, eating a healthy diet, practicing deep breathing techniques and quitting smoking.
Ensuring Heart Health & Safety at Home
Regardless of taking the necessary steps to promote your heart health, it is still possible to experience a heart attack, stroke or other heart-related medical emergencies. Since time is of the essence in an emergency, especially one involving a cardiac event, make sure you have reliable and immediate access to help with a Medical Guardian medical alert device.