CODE RED: Know Your Cardiac Risk Factors

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Thank goodness! We’re finally talking clearly and openly about women and heart disease. It’s almost unimaginable that it’s taken us so long to understand that heart attacks aren’t just a man’s problem.

In truth, women account for more heart-related deaths than men. Cancer isn’t the number one killer of women. It’s heart disease. The good news is that 80 percent of heart issues can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. Knowing your risks can decrease your chances of having a heart attack.

Get to Know Your Numbers
The American Heart Association recommends everyone be aware of and discuss with their healthcare provider these five key numbers: total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). Knowing these numbers and what they mean allows you and your doctor to determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Additionally, women should be aware of other major risks.

If you need even more reason to stop smoking, look no further than the potential for heart disease. Alone, cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease, but the risks become staggering when coupled with other factors. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood clots. Not only that; women who light-up have a 25 percent higher risk of developing heart disease then men who do the same.

Physical Inactivity
You hear it all the time. “I don’t have time to exercise.” No matter what your situation, exercise is important for overall wellbeing, but essential for heart health. Women may actually feel fine if they don’t exercise regularly, but their heart may be saying otherwise and they don’t even know it. Lack of physical activity creates a domino effect on health. Not exercising enough may cause high cholesterol, high blood pressure and weight gain, all extreme contributors to heart disease.

One major culprit in heart disease is obesity. Being grossly overweight leads to an increased risk of premature death due to cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, stroke and coronary artery disease, which is the most common type of heart disease and occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed.
Many people don’t even realize they are obese. A woman is considered overweight if she has a BMI of 25 or more, while a woman with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. To figure your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 700 then divide that number by the square of your height in inches. And if math isn’t your thing, numerous BMI calculators can be found online. Women with a waist of 35 inches or more are considered at risk for heart disease.

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease in women more than it does in men, perhaps because women with diabetes more often have added risk factors, such as obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol. Although women usually develop heart disease about ten years later than men, diabetes erases that advantage. In women who’ve already had a heart attack, diabetes doubles the risk for a second heart attack and increases the risk for heart failure.

Depression and Anxiety
Research suggests that depression increases the likelihood of developing heart disease and stroke. And since women are almost twice as likely to develop major depression than men, their risks are greater. When people are stressed, anxious or feeling down, their choices are often compromised because they are overwhelmed by their feelings. Other physiological issues are occurring in the body, including increased stress hormones, higher levels of cortisol and higher glucose levels. Taking care of overall wellness is just as important as eating healthy and exercising.

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as takotsubo syndrome, is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes suddenly weakened. The left ventricle of the heart changes shape and expands, causing the heart to pump improperly.

Often called acute stress-induced cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome and apical ballooning syndrome, takotsubo cardiomyopathy was first diagnosed in Japan in 1990. The word “takotsubo” means “octopus pot” in Japanese, as the left ventricle of the heart changes into a shape similar to the pot with a narrow neck and a round bottom. Although the condition can happen at any age, more women than men are affected. Researchers believe that the condition is caused by the sudden release of stress hormones. The good news is that often the condition is temporary and reversible.

Take Charge
In the last several years, women have finally started to concentrate on their own risk of heart attack rather than focus all of their attention on the heart health of the men in their lives. The good news is that we can avoid heart problems in the future by adopting a healthy lifestyle today. ■

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