Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Heart Disease and
Are women at risk
for heart disease?
Women are at risk for heart disease and heart
attacks, just like men. It is a myth that only men have heart attacks. Heart
disease is the leading cause of death among women over 65. Heart disease kills
more women over 65 than all cancers combined. Women develop heart problems
later in life than men -- typically 7 or 8 years later. However, by about age
65, a woman's risk is almost the same as a man's.
What do I need to
know about heart disease and heart attacks?
Women are less likely to survive heart attacks
than men. No one knows why. It may be that women don't seek or receive treatment
as soon as men. Or it may be because women's smaller hearts and blood vessels
are more easily damaged. Doctors are working on finding answers to these
questions. There's no question, however, that it makes sense to prevent heart
problems before they start.
What can I do to
For both men and women, the biggest factors that
contribute to heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
family history (father or brother with heart disease before age 55, or
mother or sister with heart disease before age 65) and age. Take a moment to
look at your lifestyle, family history and your general health. With this
information, you and your family doctor can assess your risk and make a plan to
avoid potential problems. Although you can't do much about your family history
or your age, you can change many of the other risk factors.
Quit smoking. Smoking more than doubles
the risk of heart attack for both men and women. Women who smoke and use birth
control pills increase their risk even more. Your doctor can help you quit and
stay tobacco-free. Breathing smoke from someone else's cigarettes is bad for
your heart and lungs. So if you live with someone who smokes, encourage him or
her to quit.
Control your blood pressure. Many of the
suggestions on the next pages (lose weight, exercise, eat a healthy diet) also
help control high blood pressure. Reducing how much salt you eat can also help.
If these steps don't lower your blood pressure, your doctor may recommend
Control your cholesterol level. If you
don't know your level, ask your doctor if it should be checked. Diet is a key
part of lowering high cholesterol levels. However, some people may need to
take medicines in addition to diet and exercise.
Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight
puts strain on your heart and arteries. If you're overweight, talk to your
doctor about a safe way to shed the pounds.
Exercise regularly. Remember, your heart
is a muscle. It needs regular exercise to stay in shape. Aerobic exercise, such
as brisk walking, swimming, jogging or biking, gives your heart the best
workout. You should exercise 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. Check with
your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Eat a low-fat diet. Keep fat calories to
30% or less of the total calories you take in during a day. Information is
available to help you make healthy choices. For example, food labels list
nutrition information, including fat calories. Many cookbooks have heart-healthy
recipes, and some restaurants serve low-fat dishes.
Take care of other health problems. Other
health problems, such as diabetes, can contribute to heart disease. Talk to your
family doctor for individual advice.
How does estrogen affect heart
When it comes to heart disease, women have an
advantage over men: the hormone called estrogen. Estrogen appears to help
protect against heart disease by raising the level of good cholesterol and
lowering the level of bad cholesterol. Some women use "estrogen replacement
therapy" during menopause to put estrogen back into their bodies. "Estrogen
replacement therapy," also called "hormone replacement therapy," helps with
symptoms of menopause (such as hot flashes) and reduces the risk of osteoporosis
(a weakening of the bones). In some studies, women who took estrogen replacement
therapy appeared to have a lower risk of heart disease. In other studies, the
effect was not seen. More studies are under way that will help doctors determine
whether estrogen therapy actually reduces the risk of heart disease in women.
Estrogen therapy has both benefits and risks. For example, estrogen may increase
the risk of uterine cancer and breast cancer. Your risk factors and family
history will be important in weighing the risks and benefits of estrogen
therapy. Talk to your doctor about whether it's right for
Regular use of aspirin lowers the risk of heart
attack in men by thinning the blood and lowering the risk of blood clots.
Aspirin hasn't been studied as much in women. But the available evidence
suggests that it may have the same protective effect in women. However, aspirin
can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and other problems. Talk to your doctor
about your risk factors for heart disease and whether you should consider taking