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Women and Heart Disease: Control Your Risk

The reality of cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of death for women in the U.S.1 is staggering:  heart disease kills a woman every 80 seconds.2 Conversely, it’s believed education and lifestyle changes can prevent as much as 80 percent of cardiac events.3 This February 2ndsecond, join the American Heart Association as they Go Red for Women® together and wear red to celebrate women taking control of their risk of heart disease. Join the movement by brushing up on the following need-to-knows about women and heart disease.

1. Partner with your doctor.

Discuss your personal risk of heart disease with your physician at your next well-woman opens in a new window With your medical and family history at her fingertips, your doctor can establish a baseline for important blood tests, calculate your risk and suggest an appropriate prevention plan. And if you don’t have a primary care doctor, you should. Get recommendations from friends, family, or another physician you trust to ensure you have a doctor who knows you and your history and can be there in sickness and in prevention.

2. Know Your Numbers.

To monitor your risk of heart disease, it’s important to keep track of five important numbers: blood pressure, total cholesterol, good cholesterol, blood sugar and BMI (body mass index).4 Maybe your numbers are where they need to be (your doctor can help determine those you have the most control over and the best ways to get your numbers into a healthy range), or possibly, you have one or two to work on. Either way, knowing your baseline numbers is a great way to understand and manage your own risk.

3. Understand the signs.

Despite educational outreach, many women don’t know the gender differences when it comes to heart attack symptoms. While men most often experience chest pain or pressure, women are more likely to experience other signs as well.5 The most common symptoms for women are:

  • Pressure or pain in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes
  • Arm, back, neck, jaw or stomach pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness, sweating, nausea6

4. Make healthy choices.

Several heart risk factors can be positively affected by your lifestyle. Consider making the following choices to lower your personal risk.

  • Sugar. Studies show the risk of dying from heart disease grows in correlation with the percentage of added sugar in the diet.7 And the recommended amounts may shock you: women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories of sugar per day.8 Remember, it’s not just the sugar you add that deserves your attention; check ingredient labels for sneaky sugars in unexpected foods.
  • Cholesterol. Cholesterol can often be impacted by lifestyle choices as well, through lower-cholesterol eating (think less saturated fats) and regular cardio exercise.9 Discuss individual needs and how you can gain control of your cholesterol with your physician.
  • If your BMI is too high, talk with your doctor about healthy methods for losing extra weight and maintaining a healthy weight for you. The American Heart Association offers online recipeslink opens in a new window and cookbooks to help make healthy eating a way of life.10
  • Exercise promotes heart health, so get moving! Schedule 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise into your calendar each week to ensure you’re in line with Surgeon General recommendations.11

1,2 “Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Aug. 2017.
3 “National Wear Red Day.” Go Red For Women®, American Heart Association.
4 “Know Your Numbers?” Go Red For Women®, American Heart Association.
5,6  “Heart Attack Symptoms in Women.” American Heart Association , American Heart Association, 5 Dec. 2017.
7,8 “Sugar & Heart Disease -- Go Red For Women.” Go Red For Women®, American Heart Association, 23 Jan. 2015.
9 “Cholesterol and Heart Disease - Go Red For Women.” Go Red For Women®, American Heart Association, 17 Jan. 2017.
10 “Weight Management - Go Red For Women.” Go Red For Women®, American Heart Association, 25 Feb. 2014.
11 “Prevention: What You Can Do.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 May 2013.