Did you know that 8,000,000 women in the U.S. have heart disease?
Heart disease kills more women each year than all cancers combined – yet almost 80 percent of it is preventable or modifiable.
“All women are susceptible to heart disease, but as you age, your risk also increases,” says Dr. Cynthia Warner of EvergreenHealth Heart & Vascular Care. “When talking about reducing your risk, I like to break it down into three different age groups: women under age 40, women age 40-60 and women over age 60.”
According to Dr. Warner, for women under age 40, it’s all about laying the healthy ground work for good heart health for the rest of their lives.
However, with rising rates of obesity and diabetes in this age group, women are dealing with heart disease risk factors earlier in life.
Women in their 40-60s, after experiencing menopause, typically gain one to two risk factors for heart disease.
“During this stage in life, women, who traditionally have a lower risk of heart disease than men, start to equal, if not exceed, men in terms of their risk of developing heart disease,” says Dr. Warner. “With age and changes in hormones, our arteries stiffen and thicken and blood pressure often goes up. Cholesterol plaque deposits start to buildup in artery walls which can limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs."
This is the time period when women need to take action against their risks.
"By the time a woman reaches her 60’s," Dr. Warner explains, "she should be watching her blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose (sugar), and actively managing any problems that arise.”
Dr. Warner shares that women and men of all ages can benefit from maintaining a healthy diet and weight, quitting or never start smoking, and regular exercise. “Most heart disease risk is modifiable to some degree, and any healthy lifestyle change you make will help reduce your risk,” she says.
By knowing and listening to your own body, you can also stay on top of any early warning signs of heart disease:
Be in tune with how you feel when you’re active. Have an exercise routine. “If you walk a mile or two on a regular basis, you’ll know how your body reacts when you’re demanding more from your heart and your body,” says Dr. Warner. “If you begin to notice that your daily walk is taking longer or is harder than usual, you’ll be more apt to seek help from your doctor when something is off.”
Understand acute cardiac distress and when to seek immediate medical care. Studies have shown women are less likely to call 9-1-1 if they are experiencing the symptoms of heart attack. “Symptoms are very different for everybody, both men and women,” says Dr. Warner. “Many women don’t experience sharp excruciating chest pain, but instead have atypical symptoms such as jaw pain, arm pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or fatigue.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, listen to your intuition. “I tell women and men if something doesn’t seem right about how you feel, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out,” says Dr. Warner.
EvergreenHealth cardiologists bring their expertise to KING 5's New Day Northwest.
Dr. Cynthia Warner on how to reduce your risk for heart attack:
Dr. Karlyn Huddy with tips to control and prevent high blood pressures: