Women’s Heart Health: A prevention-focused approach

We hear enough about how heart health is important for men & that more men die of heart attacks than women. This myth has been debunked & the fact of the matter is that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. Menopause, autoimmune disorders, and ethnicity also play a large role in women’s heart health. While estrogen is known to provide some amount of protection for women’s heart and brain health, it cannot be treated as a standard fact & can change depending on many factors. According to data provided by the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. The mortality rate of heart disease is higher than that of breast cancer. While 1 in 31 women die because of breast cancer, heart disease kills 1 in 3 women.

The best way to prevent the rise in heart disease is to use a knowledge-based approach.

Awareness

A famous proverb says, ‘The beginning of health is to know the disease’, and rightly so. The biggest reason heart health is a largely ignored issue, especially when it comes to women is because there is no awareness around cardiovascular health for women, its cause, how to prevent it and just how common it is, In fact, this study has called the rise of cardiovascular diseases a ‘global pandemic in women’.

The most common myths about heart disease are

  • Heart disease affects only older people. This is false. Heart disease can affect women across all age groups depending on lifestyle factors, other ailments they might suffer from & if they’re on any kind of medication.
  • Lack of knowledge about symptoms. The majority of women who die because of heart disease never reported any symptoms. Chest pain is not the only symptom of failing heart health. There are many other symptoms like nausea, pain along the jaw, difficulty breathing, fainting, pain around the abdomen and lower chest & feeling extremely tired.
  • Heart disease is a cause of concern for those who don’t exercise. Your daily headstand, wins at the gym, love for playing sports, basically anything that you believe keeps you fit is not enough to protect you against heart disease. Physical exercise is just one checkbox, other factors like cholesterol, diet also make a huge difference to your heart health. The most important thing to remember is, being thin does not equate to good health. Someone who appears skinny might have high cholesterol which will go unchecked unless they get regular tests.

Source: https://www.thelancet.com

This brings us to the most important thing; the prevention of heart disease in women.

  • Lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes look at all aspects of life, from diet, movement, health conditions. The biggest factor is diet. There are many trends that have come and gone promoting one food or another as heart-healthy. More than 80% of premature heart diseases can be prevented by eating a healthy diet. What does a healthy diet include? Plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats found in avocados, lean meats. Many studies have promoted the Mediterranean diet for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking. There has been a lot of talk about red wine being good for your heart. Before you uncork that bottle and drink it to your heart’s content, remember that the evidence is pretty weak. As a basic rule of thumb, anything in excess is bad for the human body, and alcohol. smoking intake should be regulated as much as possible.
  • Diabetes and Cholesterol. Genetics may play some role in determining your chances of getting diabetes and high cholesterol. But being physically inactive, excessive alcohol intake & a diet high in processed foods and fats also contribute to one developing diabetes and cholesterol. Again, this can be managed with a good diet and by being physically active. A diabetic adult is hospitalised for heart disease every 80 seconds and 7 out of 10 diabetic patients will die from some sort of heart disease.
  • Check your blood pressure. High blood pressure severely affects heart health. Almost 47% of heart disease cases are because of high blood pressure. Many people have high blood pressure and no symptoms, so it is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Symptoms usually occur when blood pressure has reached a severe stage and include headaches and/or nose bleeds. Treating high blood pressure requires you to eat healthily, get exercise, and limit alcohol consumption.
  • This point has been stressed many times here so let’s talk about how much exercise does a person need? The WHO has recommended that adults between 18-64 years should engage in at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise in a week. It has the same recommendations for people with diabetes. In any case, some movement is always better than none and it’s a good idea to be aware of how much time you spend being sedentary versus being a little active.
  • Learn how to manage stress. It is easier said than done but it has been found that increased stress levels lead to an increased risk of a heart attack. Again, all these recommended prevention methods are interlinked. A balanced diet, physical fitness and trying to keep stress levels low as much as possible will do well to keep your heart healthy & happy.