9 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Heart

Jan 01, 2023
9 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Heart
Cardiovascular disease is widely regarded as a male health concern, but nothing could be further from the truth. Here are nine important reasons why heart health should be top of mind for every woman.

If you’re like most busy women, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your heart. While you’re probably aware that your daily walks are good for it — and that frequently indulging in fast food isn’t — chances are, your heart’s long-term health (and its current risk of damage and disease) aren’t among your primary daily concerns. 

But here’s why your heart health should be top of mind: As the leading cause of death in the United States — among both men and women alike — cardiovascular disease is responsible for 1 in 5 female deaths in the U.S. each year. And often, it’s entirely preventable. 

As a family medicine expert who specializes in women’s health at Comprehensive Care Clinic in Spring, Texas, Tyneza Mitchell, FNP, knows that education and awareness are the first major steps toward better heart health. Here are nine key facts every woman should know.

1. Heart disease affects one-third of all women 

Some 1 in 3 women live with cardiovascular disease, which is the umbrella medical term for various conditions that affect the heart and its vast network of blood vessels. More common than all forms of cancer combined, heart disease is also the deadliest health problem among American women, causing 1 in 5 female deaths each year in the U.S.

2. Cardiovascular health numbers matter

Two of the most significant risk factors for heart disease are hypertension (high blood pressure) and unhealthy blood lipid levels (high cholesterol and triglycerides). To promote optimal heart health, you should strive to:

  • Keep your blood pressure below 120/80
  • Maintain total cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL
  • Keep unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels below 100 mg/dL
  • Keep healthy HDL cholesterol levels above 50 mg/dL
  • Maintain triglyceride levels below 150 mg/dL

We measure your blood pressure every time you visit our office. Most healthy adults need a blood lipid screening (cholesterol test) every 5 years; if you have heart disease, diabetes, or a family history of high cholesterol, you may need to be screened more frequently.

3. Heart disease risk factors are cumulative 

While high blood pressure and cholesterol levels are key risk factors for heart disease, several other medical conditions and lifestyle factors can compound that risk, including:

  • Smoking (tobacco use)
  • Having diabetes
  • Being physically inactive
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Unhealthy eating patterns
  • Excessive alcohol intake

Older age and a family history of heart disease are uncontrollable factors that can raise your risk. Nearly 1 in 2 people has at least one major risk factor for cardiovascular disease; having multiple risk factors significantly increases your overall risk.

4. Hormones levels can affect your heart

By actively working to boost good HDL cholesterol levels and lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, estrogen has a strong protective effect against heart disease. This effect essentially expires, however, when your reproductive hormone levels decline during menopause. 

Simply put, this mid-life change marks a focused point that accelerates and magnifies your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Statistics show that an overall increase in heart attacks among women occurs about 10 years after menopause.

5. Your waistline can influence your heart health

While having a high body mass index (BMI) increases your heart disease risk, the size of your waistband appears to matter even more. Women with a waist circumference greater than 35 inches are more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack. 

That’s because deep belly fat is more metabolically active than other types of body fat. Having too much is closely linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, and poor cardiovascular health.

6. Uncontrolled diabetes can damage your heart

High blood sugar levels can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system, damaging blood vessels large and small, as well as your heart muscle. Diabetes can be so detrimental to your heart health that most physicians view a type 2 diagnosis as an automatic indicator of the presence of underlying cardiovascular disease.

7. Heart disease doesn’t just affect older women

Nearly 45% of American women aged 20 and older have some form of heart disease, and fewer than 1 in 2 women entering pregnancy have good cardiovascular health. You may be surprised to learn that heart disease is the primary cause of premature mortality among new mothers, accounting for over 1 in 3 maternal deaths in the U.S.

8. Heart attacks can feel different for women

While crushing or squeezing chest discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack among men and women, women are more likely to experience atypical heart attack symptoms like severe fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, indigestion, nausea, and back or jaw pain. 

9. You can protect your heart

While you may not be able to change your age and family history, there’s a lot you can do to support and protect your heart health. Get active, pay attention to your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, don’t smoke (or quit), reach and maintain a healthy body weight, and have regular physical exams to stay on top of your chronic disease risk. 

If you have questions about your heart health, we can help. Call 832-346-6752 today, or click online to schedule a visit at Comprehensive Care Clinic any time.