Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Heart Disease causes more deaths each year in women than all other causes combined, including breast cancer. Each year in the United States, 500,000 women die of heart disease. This translates into approximately one death every minute. While women seem to be somewhat protected from developing heart disease during their reproductive years, the risk of heart disease in women increases with age, and rises dramatically after menopause. Once women develop heart disease, their mortality (rate of death) is higher than that of men.
Why are women at increased risk of heart disease as they age?
When a woman reaches menopause either naturally (by aging, usually between the ages of 45-55) or surgically (by removal of the ovaries), her risk of developing heart disease rapidly increases to become equal to that of men of the same age. The reasons for this are unclear, and may be related to the decrease in ovarian production of female hormones (estrogen). However, it has been shown in several large clinical studies that replacement of female hormones is not helpful in decreasing the risk of heart disease, and may actually be harmful. The explanation for this confusing paradox has not yet been found.
What are other risk factors for heart disease in women?
Other factors which contribute to creating risk for heart disease in women include a family history of early heart disease in relatives (men under 55 and women under 65 years of age), diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, an abnormal lipid profile (either high “bad” cholesterol (LDL) or low “good” cholesterol (HDL)). Being overweight or obese, having a sedentary lifestyle, and having elevated triglycerides may also create risk for heart disease.
How can you decrease your risk of heart disease?
There are risk factors you cannot change (your age, and your family history), but there are many risk factors which can be modified to lower your chances of developing heart disease. Taking the following measures have been proven to help lower the risk of heart disease:
-avoiding or quitting smoking
-losing weight and maintaining a more ideal body weight
-exercising for 30-40 minutes a day at leas 3 days of the week
-following a diet low in saturated fat, trans-fat, and calories
-seeking medical treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
-avoiding female hormone replacement
These “lifestyle” recommendations, in addition to the expert guidance given to you by your doctor, are likely to improve your cardiovascular health and help you avoid heart disease.