Heart Health and Menopause: 5 Ways to Lower Your Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

OBBPOV0The idea that heart disease is a “man’s disease” is a myth.  The cold truth is that heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States.  In fact, more women die of heart disease each year than all cancers combined.  Before menopause, women have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease compared to men. However, this protection fades away after menopause leaving women at risk of experiencing myocardial infarction (heart attack), heart failure, stroke, amputation and death. 

There are risk factors for the development of heart disease that we cannot control; such as our family history, age, and menopause; however, there are many things we can do to decrease our risk and stay healthy.  Five things you can do today include:

  1.  Stop Smoking 
  • Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the U.S.
  • 21% of American women age 18 and older smoke!
  • Among other toxic effects, tobacco causes plaque to form in blood vessels, reduces HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increases blood pressure, and increases heart arrhythmia.
  • Women who smoke have a six-fold increased risk of heart disease.
  • The increased risk of developing heart disease is higher for women smokers than men regardless of age.
  • If you smoke, it is important to stop. Our free program can help. If you do not smoke, don’t start. 
  1. Monitor and Control Your Blood Pressure
  • High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known as the “silent killer” and greatly increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure. Often, there are no symptoms of hypertension until damage is already done.
  • In general, the systolic number (top number on the blood pressure device) should be less than 120mmHg. The diastolic number (bottom number on the blood pressure machine) should be less than 80mmHg.
  • When you lower your blood pressure, you lower your risk of:
    • Stroke by 40%
    • Heart Attack by 25%
    • Heart Failure by 50%
  1. Know and Control Your Cholesterol
  • Everybody needs cholesterol. It serves a vital function in the body. But too much cholesterol can deposit in the arteries in the form of plaque and contribute to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and amputation.
  • There are two main sources of cholesterol. We get cholesterol from the foods we eat and from what our body naturally produces.
  • LDL is “BAD cholesterol." LDL cholesterol is a major component of the plaque that clogs arteries and increases the risk of heart disease.  HDL is “GOOD cholesterol." HDL increases with exercise.
  • After menopause, we lose the protective effect of estrogen and LDL levels may increase.
  • Get your cholesterol checked and talk to your doctor about your specific cholesterol goals and whether medication is needed to lower cholesterol levels and keep your heart healthy.
  1. Manage Your Diabetes
  • Diabetes is a progressive disease in which your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t respond properly to insulin. Diabetes is defined as a fasting glucose/sugar of 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or more.
  • 66-75% of people with diabetes die from some form of heart or vascular disease. It is important for diabetics to control their blood sugar and to be screened and treated for heart disease.
  • For diabetics, hemoglobin A1c should be monitored every 3 to 6 months as this is an important marker of glucose/sugar control. The hemoglobin A1c should be less than 6.
  1. Eat Healthy and Stay Active
  • Follow a healthy eating plan:
    • Eat a diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
    • Limit sodium intake
    • Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than one a day
    • Choose a variety of whole grains, fruits, and
      vegetables daily
    • Choose fish, poultry, and lean cuts of meat
    • Use nonfat or low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get moving! The American Heart Association recommends a starting goal of at least 150 minutes a week of physical activity. Find exercises you like and formulate a plan to implement consistently.

The key to managing your heart health risk is to regularly see a cardiologist. Click here to learn more about women's heart health. Click below to schedule an appointment at a Cardiovascular Institute of the South location near you.

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Dr. Charisse Ward

Written by Dr. Charisse Ward