Carrie Fisher’s death from a heart attack this past Tuesday has emphasized the importance of women’s heart health. My previous post discussed general statistics about heart disease in women as well as some symptoms of heart disease and heart attacks. It’s also important to know heart disease risk factors, and what someone can do to decrease their risk.
90% of women have 1 or more heart disease risk factors, but 80% of these problems can be prevented by avoiding smoking, eating healthy foods, drinking little alcohol, regular exercise, and maintaining proper weight. It’s also important to keep track of your “heart numbers.”
- Blood pressure – high blood pressure can damage your heart. Ideally, your blood pressure should be below 120/80.
- Blood sugar – diabetes occurs when the body no longer makes enough insulin or your body no longer uses insulin properly. The increased blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and can lead to heart disease. Blood sugar levels after an overnight fast should be less than 100mg/dL of blood. Another blood sugar test, A1C, which looks at average blood sugar levels over the previous 2-3 months should be below 5.7%.
- Cholesterol – There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. HDL is known as the ‘good cholesterol’ because it moves extra cholesterol back to the liver. These levels should be 60mg/dL or more. LDL is known as the ‘bad cholesterol’ because it moves cholesterol particles through the body, which can lead to build up on artery walls. These levels should be 129mg/dL or less.
- Triglycerides – This fat type moves in your blood along with cholesterol. It stores unused calories for later use as energy. But, too much of these can harden your arteries. This level should be less than 150mg/dL.
Some risk factors are unique risks for women. For instance, high triglycerides are a risk factor for women, but not as much for men. Other risk factors more specific to women include: menopause before age 50, inflammatory diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy complications and pre-term births. Pregnancy can be considered a “window into what may happen to the heart in the future.” If a woman has gestational diabetes (high blood sugar), high blood pressure, preeclampsia (high blood pressure along with high protein levels in the urine), these can be red flags for heart disease. Other risk factors for women include: chronic stress, sleeping less than 6hrs/night, and depression. Depression alone can double the risk of heart attack, death, or need for open heart surgery in women aged 55 and below.
While smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure and obesity are risk factors for both sexes, diabetes, lack of exercise, and obesity are more influential risks in women.
It is also important to know your family history. Family history accounts for about 20% of your heart disease risk. If a family member (blood relation) has had a heart attack, stroke, bypass, stent, or other heart procedure, your heart disease risk may increase. If a parent or sibling has had these issues before age 55 in men and 65 in women, your heart disease risk may increase at a younger age.
Curious to know your ‘Healthy Heart Score?’ Check out this survey created by Harvard researchers. It also gives tips for increasing your heart health.
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