Women’s Coronary Health
Welcome to February, which is National Heart Disease Awareness Month. But this campaign is not just for the United States: heart disease prevention is the world’s problem, especially with increased sedentary lifestyles and increased fast food intake among adults. Alarmingly, heart disease is the number one cause of death among women.
On February 1st, we were asked to wear red to show support for heart disease awareness. The red dress became a symbol for women and heart disease awareness in 2002. Today, it’s important to recognize the risks for women’s heart disease, and to actively work towards its prevention and cure.
Definition of Heart Disease
Heart disease consists of many disorders that prevent normal heart functioning. Some are congenital (existing since birth) and some develop during a lifetime. Some affect the structure and function of the heart, while some affect the structure and function of the adjoining arteries.
The purpose of Heart Disease Awareness Month is to address the most common, preventable forms of cardiovascular disease, particularly coronary artery disease, or the disorder of the adjoining blood vessels that lead to the heart. Unfortunately, CAD causes these vital arteries to become blocked with plaque, leading to heart attacks and even death.
Women’s Heart Disease Risk Factors
While various types of heart disease are congenital or structural (thereby being less avoidable), coronary artery disease is the result of plaque buildup in vital blood vessels. If the disease is acquired or developed, like CAD, certain factors can cause it or worsen an already existing condition. These include:
- a family history of heart disease
- being overweight
- being physically inactive
- age (55+/ low estrogen levels)
- having high cholesterol
- having high blood pressure
- having diabetes
- ethnicity: being African American or Hispanic
Risk factors should be kept in mind, and if a woman has several factors, her odds for developing heart disease increase drastically. Even if a woman has only one risk factor, she should consult with her doctor to remedy a fixable situation.
Heart Disease Prevention
Proper prevention is the best way to avoid developing heart disease. Key areas to focus on include:
- Keeping physically active: Try to exercise for 30 minutes a day, at least 4 times a week.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: This lowers the risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- Lowering stress levels and alcohol consumption: Deal with stress in a positive way (exercise) and not with excessive drinking or smoking.
- Not smoking: This habit narrows healthy or already clogged arteries, making blood flow to the heart even tougher.
- Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels: This can be done by exercising, lowering stress levels, and eating correctly. Medication can also be used. Cholesterol causes plaque buildup in the coronary arteries, causing coronary artery disease (CAD.) This leads to heart attacks and possibly death.
- Eating healthy: Consume vegetables, fruits, low-fat poultry and fish, low-fat dairy, and nuts for healthier arteries, which in turn maintain a healthier heart.