When we think of a victim of heart disease, we tend to think of men, but unfortunately, heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States. Heart disease includes the narrowing of the arteries that bring oxygen to the heart, heart failure, diseases of the heart muscles, inborn defects, and other conditions. Five hundred thousand American women die each year from heart diseases, and the risks increase as a woman ages.
The Change of Life
The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center explains that menopause changes the risks for women and heart disease. Post-menopause, a woman’s body experiences reduced estrogen production, changes in cholesterol levels, changes in the structure of blood vessels, and increased production of the clotting agent fibrinogen.
No one yet knows exactly how much a woman’s risk is affected by each of these changes, but they are definitely associated with greater heart disease risk.
Women who have gone through menopause are two to three times more likely to suffer heart disease than a pre-menopausal woman of the same age. Women that have had a hysterectomy experience these same raised risk factors.
In the past, scientists studying women and heart disease hypothesized that hormone replacement therapy could help post-menopausal women fight heart disease; however, long-term studies do not confirm that preliminary idea and doctors no longer recommend hormone replacement therapy to battle heart disease. Menopause we cannot change, but other risk factors are under our control.
Using hormonal birth control (the pill or the patch) is considered safe for women under thirty-five. As of now, doctors do not have proof that birth control hormones can increase or decrease problems for women and heart disease, especially after the age of thirty-five. When talking about your heart disease risk factors with your doctor, get his or her opinion on your personal situation.
A Change of Lifestyle
Scientists studying women and heart disease find that women are knowledgeable about what lifestyles are associated with heart disease, but are also prone to having those lifestyles. For example, according to the National Institutes of Health, fifty-six million American women have high cholesterol, 33% of women have high blood pressure, and 62% of women are overweight. Despite these risks, women are less physically active than men, on average.
For women, as for men, there are a few good guidelines to a healthier heart. Habits such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight by regular activity or exercise, cutting down on the fatty foods, and getting your cholesterol tested can dramatically help prevent heart disease. Don’t become another statistic about women and heart disease.