Women and Heart Disease

Risk Factors for Women

Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found in the blood and in all the body's cells. High cholesterol level in the blood can build up with other substances in the inner walls of arteries causing plaque that can narrow the arteries and reduce blood flow. Plaques that rupture cause blood clots that can totally block blood flow in the artery. If a clot blocks a blood vessel that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack. If it blocks a blood vessel that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke.

  • High blood cholesterol has no symptoms, and many people have it without knowing it.
  • If you need to lower your LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), you should work with your doctor to create a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and develop an exercise plan. If changes in diet and exercise do not get you to your goal, your doctor may also prescribe medication.

High Blood Pressure (or hypertension) makes the heart work harder than normal. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, eye damage, congestive heart failure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. If you smoke cigarettes (or cigars), you have a higher risk of illness and death from heart attack, stroke and other diseases.

  • Constant exposure to other people's tobacco smoke increases your risk - even if you don't smoke.
  • When you stop smoking - no matter how long or how much you've smoked - your risk of heart disease and stroke starts to drop. It's cut in half after one year without smoking, and continues to decline until it's as low as a nonsmoker's risk.

Physical Inactivity - regular, moderate-to-vigorous exercise improves your cardiovascular fitness and helps reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Exercise can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. It can also help lower blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week to condition your heart and lungs.

Obesity or Overweight women with excess body fat are at higher risk of heart disease, even if they don't have other risk factors.

  • Try to reach a healthy weight—and stay there.
  • Even modest weight loss (5 to 10 percent of body weight) can help lower your heart disease risk!
  • Beware of fad diets, programs and products that promise rapid weight loss.

Diabetes most often appears in middle age and among overweight people. But it's becoming an increasing problem in children and adolescents. It affects many more women than men after age 60. Compared to women without diabetes, women with diabetes have from two to four times the risk of heart disease.

If you have diabetes, it's critical to have regular medical check-ups. Work closely with your health care provider to manage your diabetes and reduce or eliminate any other risk factors. If you have a family history of diabetes, ask your healthcare provider for a fasting blood sugar test.

Health Goals

  • Total Cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
  • LDL (bad) Cholesterol Less than 130 mg/dL
  • HDL (good) Cholesterol 50 mg/dL or higher
  • Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Blood Pressure Less than 120/80 mmHg
  • Fasting Glucose Less than 110 mg/dL
  • Body mass Index Less than 25 Kg/m
  • Waist Circumference Less than 35 inches
  • Exercise a minimum of 30 minutes most days