Women and The Risk Factors of Heart Disease

Many women may not realize it, but heart disease is the number one cause of death among females. About half a million women die of heart disease every year in the United States, more then men die from cardiovascular disease.

Therefore, controlling risk factors that lead to heart disease is as important for women as for men, and aggressively managing them can prevent or delay the onset of such disease.

Non-controllable risk factors – Women who have a family history or coronary artery disease or stroke, 55 or older, who are menopausal or had their ovaries removed, may have high risks for heart disease. A family history of cardiac disease at less than 60 years of age, especially in a sibling, may be a particularly important risk factor. Women with such factors should be aggressive in taking care of their hearts.

Obesity and inactivity – Excessive weight and sedentary lifestyle are more common in post-menopausal women than in men the same age. Women tend to be the caregivers in the family, and research suggests that out of a sense of duty, they have a hard time justifying behaviors that benefit themselves such as exercising.

Smoking – This is a particular problem for women, accounting for the vast majority of heart attacks in women under 45. Smoking is also a phenomenal risk multiplier in women with family histories of heart disease. Female smokers who also take birth control pills make things even worse, as combining the two increases the risk of early heart disease 20 times.

Hypertension – High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It is very common in women over 55, and is often undertreated. However, a good treatment is well worth the effort.

Cholesterol abnormalities – Low HDL levels are a more important risk factor in women than in men. Research shows that achieving very low LDL levels, or substantially raising HDL levels, can actually stop or reverse heart disease. Cholesterol can be controlled with diet and exercise, but drug therapy is also needed.

Diabetes – This disease should be thought of as a disease of blood vessels as much as a disease of sugar metabolism since it greatly increases cardiovascular risk. Having diabetes increases risks among women as much as 6 times.

Metabolic syndrome – Particularly common among post-menopausal women, metabolic syndrome greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Women can be diagnosed with such if they have 3 of these 5 signs: a waist size greater than 35 inches; triglyceride levels greater than 150 mg/dl, HDL cholesterol less then 50 mg/dl; fasting blood glucose equal or greater than 110 mg/dl; and blood pressure equal or greater than 130/85. Metabolic syndrome is also presumed as an early stage of type II diabetes.

C-Reactive Protein – Increased CRP levels indicate active inflammation, and a high CRP level usually can be thought to be a major factor in the erosion or rupture of coronary artery plaques.

Complicated pregnancy – Women who develop certain complications during pregnancy such as significant hypertension, gestational diabetes, or delivering babies with low-birth-weight, have significantly higher risk of early heart disease and death. Women who develop these complications should begin to aggressively manage all their cardiovascular risk factors.