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Know Your Heart Disease Risk Factors

More women die from heart disease than from any other cause: about one in four American women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The risk of heart disease increases for everyone as they age,” explains FDA cardiologist Shari Targum, M.D. “For women, the risk goes up after menopause, but younger women can also develop heart disease.”

But you can take action now to reduce your risk. 

Check these tips on how to reduce your risk and make informed decisions about your health because even small changes can help:

Know your heart disease risk factors. Nine out of 10 women have at least one heart disease risk factor. Risk factors include:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • a family history of premature heart disease

Obesity also increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and pre-diabetes, which increases the risk of heart disease. Note: With the exception of family history, you can modify the other risk factors to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Manage current health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Talk to your health care provider to confirm the best treatment plan.

Recognize symptoms of a heart attack in women—and call 9-1-1 if needed. Know that symptoms in women can be the same or different as those in men.

Symptoms can include:

  • an ache or feeling of tightness in the chest, arm(s), neck, jaw, back, or abdomen
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea/vomiting
  • lightheadedness
  • extreme fatigue
  • breaking out in a cold sweat

Note: As with men, the most common symptom of a heart attack in women is chest discomfort. But you can have a heart attack without chest pain or pressure. And women are more likely than men to have other symptoms such as back pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, indigestion, and nausea/vomiting.

“If you have these symptoms and suspect you’re having a heart attack, call 9-1-1,” says Targum. Call even if you’re not sure; it could save your life.

Do regular physical activity and maintain a healthy weight. You don’t need to complete all activity at one set time—and it’s OK if you’re not a fan of the gym.

“Walking may be one easy way to start,” says Targum. “Talk to your health care provider about how much activity is right for you.”

Make heart-healthy food choices. “For example, you can eat fruits and vegetables with each meal—and limit saturated fat and added sugars,” says Targum, who also emphasizes a focus on whole grains. And if you choose to eat meats, choose the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy ways. The Nutrition Facts label can tell you key information about the packaged foods you eat, and it includes details about serving sizes and nutrients like fat and sugar. You can check with your health care provider to confirm the food choices best for you.

Know daily use of aspirin is not right for everyone. Talk with a health care provider before you use aspirin to prevent heart attacks.

If you smoke, try to quit. Learn more about how smoking affects heart health—and to learn more about medicines to help you quit.

Talk to a health care provider about whether you can participate in a clinical trial for a heart medication or procedure.

Work with your health care provider to make a plan for your heart health.


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