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Heart Disease & Heart Attacks: What Women Need to Know

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Joan Lunden

Health / / January 26, 2012

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Are women at risk?

Women are at risk for heart disease and heart attacks, just like men. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women over 65. American women are 4 to 6 times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer. 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 protect myself?

For both men and women, the biggest factors that contribute to heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history 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 make lifestyle changes to avoid many of the other risk factors (see below).

Don't smoke

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease in women. More than half of the heart attacks in women under 50 are related to smoking. If you stop smoking, you can lower your risk of heart attack by one third within 2 years. Women who smoke and use birth control pills increase their risk even more. There are a variety of products to help you quit smoking. You may want to try using nicotine skin patches or nicotine gum: these types of medicines are available over the counter. There are also prescription medicines available that can help you stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to quit smoking. Breathing smoke from someone else's cigarettes is also bad for your heart and lungs. If you live with someone who smokes, encourage him or her to quit.

Control your blood pressure

Treating high blood pressure can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Losing weight, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet are all ways to help control high blood pressure. Reducing how much salt you consume can also help. If these steps don't lower your blood pressure, your doctor may recommend medicine for you to take.

Control your cholesterol level

If you don't know your level, ask your doctor to check it. Diet is a key part of lowering high cholesterol levels. However, some people may need to take medicine in addition to diet and exercise.

Maintain a healthy weight

Extra weight puts strain on your heart and arteries. Exercise and a low-fat diet can help you lose weight. Being overweight means you have a higher risk for many other health problems, especially diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. If you're overweight, talk to your doctor about a safe and effective way to lose weight.

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 can also use fitness equipment like exercise bicycles, treadmills and ski machines when exercising indoors. Finding an exercise partner may make it easier and safer for you to exercise often. You should exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Eat a low-fat diet

Keep fat calories to 30% or less of the total calories you eat during a day and avoid saturated fat (the fat in meats and coconut oil). 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.

Source: American Heart Association

Categories: Heart Health
About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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