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Your Heart Health and Cardiovascular Disease.

Every year more women than men die of cardiovascular disease. This is a very surprising statistic to most people. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States.

More than half a million women die of cardiovascular diseases each year, and more women die of it than the next 10 causes combined. To put it in perspective, there are about 60,000 deaths from breast cancer annually, compared to 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease. Still, for many women, cardiovascular disease is basically an under recognized and silent disease.

Women are also more likely than men to die from a heart attack, and to die after a procedure in which the artery is opened, such as a stent or a balloon angioplasty. And women are more likely than men to have another heart attack within five years.

Despite these statistics, a Women's Heart survey conducted in 2002 revealed that only 8 percent of women indicated that they perceived heart disease as their number one health risk; most thought that it was breast cancer. This lack of awareness stems in part from many patients’ and doctors’ view of heart disease as a man’s condition. And consequently, women are less likely to be treated aggressively and more likely die. That’s why it’s crucial that women educate themselves about their risk factors for heart disease, as well its prevention and treatment.

Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, includes many conditions, but the most common type is coronary artery disease. It is also the most preventable. Coronary artery disease involves blockages in the arteries caused by plaque buildup. If this plaque progresses or ruptures, heart attack or sudden death can result.

Hypertension, which is under the umbrella of cardiovascular diseases, can have many serious effects on the heart, the blood vessels and the kidneys. If untreated, it is a major cause of stroke. Hypertension occurs when the blood pressure is greater than 140/90. Other types of heart disease include diseases of the heart rhythm, which can cause either a very slow heart rate or a fast heart rate. One could also be born with abnormal heart, a condition called congenital heart disease. And heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump properly because it has been damaged or weakened, or because of high blood pressure or hypertension.

The number one preventable risk factor for coronary artery disease among women, particularly young women, is smoking.

Family history is important, but obviously that isn’t something people can control. Controllable risk factors also include high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol. Women over the age of 25 should know their cholesterol numbers. Do you know yours? It does vary from day to day, but when you get tested you must be fasting at least 12 hours. Or at least over-night, then get tested in the morning before you eat any food. If you take medication, you can take that with water only.

Other factors are sedentary lifestyle, obesity and adult onset diabetes, and a condition in which sugar is not metabolized properly.

Women at risk for diabetes should have a fasting blood sugar test. In addition, the metabolic syndrome, which is defined by, among other characteristics, increased waist size compared to hip circumference, high blood pressure and glucose intolerance, or high blood sugar, dramatically raises risk of heart disease. Women need to be proactive and know what their numbers are in terms of the risk factors, and if their doctor hasn’t checked it yet, then ask for that test.

There are some very simple things women can do to try to stay healthy: know their risk factors; not smoke; exercise more; and look at their diet.

Routine screening electrocardiograms (EKGs, ECGs) are not done routinely unless there is a symptom that a woman has to alert the physician that this is a valid test to have.

Beyond that, it’s important for individuals to know the signs and symptoms of heart disease. If they have those symptoms, they should go to their doctor. If their doctor is not taking them seriously, they should consider seeking a second opinion or switching doctors. 

Women have to be their own biggest advocates in order to get a proper diagnosis and proper treatment for heart disease. Ask to be tested for fasting blood work, for at least for a lipid panel, triglycerides, cholesterol, and that's a great start. Don't smoke. Exercise daily, (yes housework is exercise if done continually for 25 minutes, so is dancing even if you dance to your favorite tunes), and make sure to take a look at your diet.

February 6, 2011 is "Wear Red Day - Go Red For Women" to help raise awareness about women and heart disease. Sponsored in part by the American Heart Association. Wear red all month if you like, it looks so good on YOU! Yes it does.

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