6 Things Women Should Know About Heart Health

Heart disease is the nation’s leading killer of women. Paying attention to risk factors and living a healthy lifestyle, though, can help keep heart disease at bay.

While heart health is an important concern for all women, women transitioning through menopause in mid-life are at the highest risk. The menopausal changes in body composition, cholesterol levels, and fat distribution must be kept in mind when assessing risk for heart disease. Among women, 90% have one or more risk factors for heart disease at some point in their lives, according to American Heart Association statistics. Yet 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable.

Get annual checkups

It’s important to get annual checkups to assess heart-health risk and take action. Prepare in advance for the appointment, much as you would when gathering documents to meet with a financial adviser. Be prepared to have a conversation about past heart diseases in your family, or other relevant information.

In addition, become knowledgeable of your key health numbers, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. For example, blood pressure of less than 120/80 is considered normal.

Know the symptoms of a heart attack

Women’s heart attack symptoms may cover a wider spectrum compared with symptoms in men. Women may experience the “classic” heart attack symptoms of chest pressure, chest discomfort or shortness of breath, just as men do. Beyond that, however, women may also show symptoms such as shoulder or back pain, generally on the left side, indigestion, or nausea.

Tell your doctor if you had a pregnancy complication

Recent research has focused on heart disease linked to pregnancy-related complications. Diabetes and hypertension during pregnancy as well as early delivery have been linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk years later. The overall stress that comes with pregnancy is a possible marker for heart disease later in life.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep—getting less than six or seven hours a night—is also connected to heart disease, as research has shown. Poor sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, can make it difficult to lose weight, and may make you less likely to want to exercise.

Tame stress

Chronic stress is another area of concern for women. It can lead to behaviors and factors that impact heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inactivity and overeating.

To cope with stress, eat healthy foods, exercise and get plenty of sleep. Consider talking to others about your stress, including a friend, parent, doctor or counselor.

Find a health partner

In all heart-healthy efforts, it helps to have a partner in the endeavor.

Work with a health care provider to find a customized treatment plan that fits your daily life and medical needs. A friend, family member or co-worker also can be a good partner for getting physically active and sticking with a healthy eating plan. If your routines are interrupted, don’t worry; a support system is a good tool to help you get back up.