Many of us think heart disease is a man’s disease. But that’s not true. Heart disease is a concern for women, too, especially as we age. The good news is that there’s a lot we can do to stay heart healthy.
I recently talked with Michelle Montpetit, MD, a cardiologist at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield about women’s heart health.
Here are 10 things you should know:
1. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
2. Your risk of having a heart attack or stroke is minimal until after menopause. The factors that accelerate your risk — and those things you can control now — are diabetes, obesity, smoking and hypertension.
3. Women experience heart attack differently than men. Instead of crushing chest pain, you may have neck pain or jaw pain, teeth pain or shortness of breath.
4. Control your weight through diet and exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week in greater than 10-minute increments.
5. Consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day prevents hypertension and stroke. Be on the lookout for hypertension because it’s often asymptomatic. Check your blood pressure regularly, especially if you have a family history of hypertension.
6. Have your cholesterol checked at least every 5 years.
7. Know your family history of heart attack and stroke so you can discuss your risk with your doctor.
8. Pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes put you at much higher risk for heart disease or hypertension later in life even if it resolves after pregnancy.
9. If your doctor recommends cholesterol-lowering medication, then use it. Don’t rely on supplements or herbal remedies, which haven’t been put through the same level of testing.
10. Statin drugs are getting a bad rap. Statin drugs and aspirin are two drugs that have had the greatest impact on reducing heart disease. If your LDL is greater than 130 and you have several heart attack risk factors, you should be on a statin drug.