Staying Heart Healthy for American Heart Month

Posted February 15, 2023 Employee Benefits, Expert Tips

As part of American Heart Month, we’re focusing on women and ways to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths yearly. Unfortunately, heart disease impacts some women at higher rates than others. However, the simple truth is that most cardiovascular diseases are preventable with education and healthy lifestyle changes. 

Here are a few other facts you need to know about women and heart disease: 

  • Cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.
  • Among females 20 years and older, nearly 45% live with some form of cardiovascular disease.
  • Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of new moms and accounts for over one-third of maternal deaths. Additionally, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes during pregnancy significantly increase a woman’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life. 

Most of our ideas about heart disease in women came from studying it in men. But there are many reasons to think that it’s different in women. For example, a woman’s symptoms are often different from a man, and she’s much more likely than a man to die within a year of having a heart attack. Research is only now beginning to uncover the biological, medical, and social bases of these differences. The hope is that new knowledge will advance in tailoring prevention and treatment to women. 

Here are some examples of gender differences in coronary risk and treatment: 

  • Blood lipids. Before menopause, a woman’s estrogen helps protect her from heart disease by increasing HDL (good) cholesterol and decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol. After menopause, women have higher concentrations of total cholesterol than men do. These factors increase the risk of death from heart disease in women over age 65. 
  • Diabetes. Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease in women more than in men, perhaps because women with diabetes more often have added risk factors, such as obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol. 
  • Metabolic syndrome. This group of health risks — large waist size, elevated blood pressure, glucose intolerance, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides — increases your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Harvard Medical School research suggests that, for women, metabolic syndrome is the most critical risk factor for having heart attacks at an unusually early age. 
  • Smoking. Women who smoke are more likely to have heart attacks than male smokers. Women are also less likely to succeed in quitting, and those who stop are more likely to start again. Moreover, women may not find nicotine replacement as practical, and — because the menstrual cycle affects tobacco withdrawal symptoms — they may get inconsistent results with antismoking medications. 
  • Symptoms. Many women don’t experience crushing chest pain, a classic sign of a heart attack in men. Some feel extremely tired or short of breath. Other atypical symptoms include nausea and abdominal, neck, and shoulder pain. During a heart attack, only about one in eight women reported chest pain; even then, they described it as pressure, aching, or tightness rather than pain. 
  • Diagnosis and treatment. Women have smaller and lighter coronary arteries than men do. This makes angiography, angioplasty, and coronary bypass surgery more difficult, reducing a woman’s chance of receiving a proper diagnosis and having a good outcome. 

Ways to help reduce your risk for Heart Disease:

  • Don’t smoke, actively or passively. Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke as few as one to four cigarettes daily. Even if you don’t smoke, regular exposure to someone else’s smoke can increase your risk. 
  • Be more active. Get at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking, most days. Fit even more activity into your life: Take the stairs rather than the elevator, do yard work, park farther from your destination, and walk. 
  • Eat healthfully. Studies at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere have identified several crucial ingredients of a heart-healthy diet — whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts (about 5 ounces per week), poly- and monounsaturated fats, fatty fish (such as wild salmon), and limited intake of trans fats. 
  • Reduce stress and treat depression. Your risk for heart disease increases if you’re depressed or chronically stressed. Stress-reducing strategies include exercise, adequate sleep, relaxation techniques, and meditation. Psychotherapy can be constructive for depression and anxiety. 
  • Reach for the numbers. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you can significantly reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases by maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), keeping your cholesterol levels low, and ensuring healthy blood pressure levels. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Henderson Brothers’ health strategy consulting can help your employees, please get in touch with April Ginsburg. 

Email April Ginsburg

Please note that the information contained in this posting is designed to provide general awareness in regard to the subject matter covered. It is not provided as legal, medical, or tax advice, nor is it intended to address all concerns in your workplace or for public health. No representation is made as to the sufficiency for your specific company’s needs. This post should be reviewed by your legal counsel or tax consultant before use.