Heart disease is often viewed as a condition that affects more men than women. This is partly because males are viewed as indulging in more activities that cause vascular problems, such as smoking, heavy drinking, and unhealthy eating. Nevertheless, some statistics reveal that heart disease in women is actually more common than heart disease in men. According to the Texas Heart Institute, 40 percent of American women will die from a cardiovascular-related disease.
The Role of Estrogen
Estrogens are steroid compounds that are essential for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system, but they also impact heart health. Research shows that after menopause, women have an increased risk of heart disease due to decreasing estrogen levels. This is because estrogen promotes a high level of HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. “good” cholesterol). When estrogen levels decrease, LDL cholesterol (a.k.a. “bad” cholesterol) starts to rise.
Because the average life expectancy for women in the U.S. is 79 years, and the average age for menopause is 50, many women experience some form of heart disease. In fact, research shows that 1 out of 4 women over age 65 has some type of vascular disease. In the past, doctors tried to combat heart disease in older women with hormone replacement therapy, but giving women estrogen and progestin injections actually increased their chance of having a heart attack.
Approaches That Work
Over the past 20 years, several studies have ruled out hormone replacement therapy as a viable treatment for heart disease in women. However, there are several strategies women can use to prevent the occurrence of heart disease or halt its progression. When used in combination, the strategies below play a major role in helping women combat vascular disease. Many of these strategies are also helpful for preventing vascular disease in men.
Smoking raises blood pressure and causes plaque to form inside arteries, conditions that cause heart attacks and strokes. If you smoke, quitting now will reduce your risk of heart disease.
Reducing Alcohol Intake
Studies have shown that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have a lower risk of heart disease. However, over-consuming alcohol raises blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
Obesity raises blood pressure and contributes to heart disease. A person is considered obese when their weight exceeds the ideal weight for their height and gender by 20 percent.
Treating High Cholesterol
Treating high cholesterol with cholesterol-lowering medicines can reduce heart disease in women. As mentioned above, LDL cholesterol levels in women are higher after menopause.
Treating High Blood Pressure
Treating high blood pressure with other cholesterol-lowering medication helps reduce the risk of heart attack. Women should be especially aware of high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Using Non-Oral Contraceptives
Oral contraceptives may contribute to heart disease by increasing the risk of blood clots and raising blood pressure. These risks are more pronounced in women who smoke.
Both men and women suffer from heart disease, but the percentage of women who suffer from vascular problems is often understated. If you need more information about heart disease in women and how to reduce your risk, the FH Foundation — a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about familial hypercholesterolemia– is here to help.
For more information about heart disease in women, browse through our website, call us today at (626) 465-1234, or click here to use our contact form.