Do you think that being a woman means you aren't at risk of cardiovascular disease? If so, than you may be a little surprised to find out that cardiovascular disease should be a major concern for all women, no matter what their age or medical background. Though men are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease earlier in life, by the time women enter menopause, they are just as likely to develop certain types of heart and blood vessel diseases. And because cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of American men and women, it is important to become familiar with the various risk factors associated with the disease.
What is Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)?
Cardiovascular disease is the term used to describe a number of illnesses that affect the heart or blood vessels. In particular, cardiovascular diseases work to inhibit blood flow in the heart and blood vessels, preventing the proper circulation of oxygen and nutrients to various areas of the body. CVD is currently the leading cause of death in American men and women over the age of 35. In fact, CVD is responsible for almost one million deaths every year in the United States alone.
Who Gets Cardiovascular Disease?
Last year, more than one in five Americans had some type of cardiovascular disease. While men have a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease by the time they are 55, women are at increased risk for CVD after the age of 65. Factors that work to increase your risk for CVD include:
- Aging: As you age, your chances of developing CVD increase. Women are most likely to develop the disease after the age of 65.
- Family History: You are at increased risk for developing some type of CVD if one or both of your parents has a history of the disease.
- Race: People of certain ethnic backgrounds are more likely to develop CVD. In particular, African American women are at increased risk.
- High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure levels increase your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
- High Blood Cholesterol: High blood cholesterol levels increase your chances of heart attack, stroke, and angina.
Many preventable factors can also increase your risk of CVD, including :
- physical inactivity
Types of Cardiovascular Disease
There are a variety of different types of cardiovascular disease. Some of the most common include:
Artherosclerosis occurs when the walls of the arteries become hardened due to excess fatty buildup. This buildup is often referred to as plaque, and can cause your arteries to narrow and become blocked. Artherosclerosis increases your risk of developing a heart attack, stroke, or angina.
Hypertension is the term used to describe high blood pressure levels. It often occurs alongside artherosclerosis. When you have hypertension, your heart is working harder than it should be to pump blood around your body. This causes blood to flow at increased pressures through your blood vessels, leaving you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
Heart failure occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body for some reason. As a result, your body doesn't get enough blood and oxygen, causing certain body parts to swell up. Heart failure can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
A heart attack is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart due to fatty buildup or a blood clot. This causes certain muscles in the heart to die. Though men are most often associated with heart attacks, women account for almost 50% of heart attack patients. Signs of a heart attack in both men and women include: feelings of pressure or squeezing in the chest, pain radiating down the shoulders and arms, and difficulty breathing. Women are more likely to experience additional symptoms during a heart attack, including nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying one part of the brain becomes blocked or bursts. As a result, no oxygen can get to this part of the brain, causing it to die. Stroke symptoms include: weakness in the arm, leg, hand, or face; sudden blindness; difficulty speaking; and loss of balance.
Obesity, Inactivity, and Cardiovascular Disease
Unfortunately, two major factors linked to cardiovascular disease are actually preventable ones. Obesity and inactivity are major causes of all types of CVD, especially high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. In fact, obesity is thought to play a role in more than 75% of CVD cases, while inactivity accounts for more than 35% of CVD illnesses. And because women are more likely to be obese or inactive, it especially important that you take steps to minimize these factors.
Recent studies have shown that if overweight or obese women reduce their body weight by between 5% and 10%, they can actually reduce their risk of CVD by up to 30%. And women who maintain an active lifestyle and engage in safe exercise can cut their risk of CVD-related conditions by up to 50%. Here are some tips to help you avoid the dangers of obesity and inactivity:
- Eat Healthy: Follow a healthy diet to help you maintain your weight at recommended levels. Try to focus on low-fat, low cholesterol foods.
- Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise can help you to lower your cholesterol levels and your blood pressure. Try to engage in 30 minutes of aerobic activities at least three times a week.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking is a major contributor to CVD and can also decrease your activity levels. Improve your health by butting out.
- Talk to Your Health Care Provider: See your health care provider regularly to get your blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight measured. This will help to keep you knowledgeable about your CVD risk factors.