The Truth About Heart Health For Women

African American Mother and Daughter

Are you aware that heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the US? Many women think it's a man's problem, but it's also very much a woman's problem. Most research on the subject has been done on men, yet older men and women (over 60) have similar rates of heart attack. Therefore, it is crucial for women to know the facts about heart disease symptoms.

As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. But women often experience symptoms that most people don't think to associate with heart attacks, such as severe indigestion or nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, severe pain in the jaw, neck, shoulder or arm, palpitations and sweating. Because of these different symptoms, women are often diagnosed later than we would like. Early recognition of these symptoms is one key to improved outcomes.

Medical scientists have discovered many differences in the way women and men are treated for heart disease. For example, women are often referred for coronary bypass surgery at a later stage of the disease than men, which may account for their higher death rate from this surgery.

Women should also know that heart disease is not limited to older women anymore. Statistics show that coronary heart disease occurs in 0.6% of women age 20-39, 5.5% of women age 40-59, 10.6% of women age 60-79, and 18.6% of women age 80 and older.

Cardiovascular disease affects women of all racial and ethnic groups, with African American women more likely to have chronic conditions that can lead to heart disease, and are more likely to die of heart disease than white women. It's alarming to note that fewer than one in ten women today consider heart disease as their greatest health threat.

How to Identify Your Risk of Heart Disease

Cigarettes and red cross

So, how does a woman know she's at risk for heart disease? Here are some risk factors you should consider:

  • Over age 50
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Hysterectomy with removal of ovaries before age 45
  • Stress and certain personality factors: habitual impatience, hostility, anger, high competitive drive.
  • Oral contraceptive use or hormone use
  • Absence of a social network

Studies show that greater than 80% of women age 40-60 have at least one of these risk factors. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you'll develop cardiovascular disease. Some factors can't be controlled, such as getting older, family health history and race, while others such as smoking are modifiable. And a woman's probability of developing heart disease soars after she goes through menopause.

In the past, taking hormone replacement therapy or HRT was thought to help protect women against cardiovascular disease. But recent findings from the Women's Health Initiative Study showed that taking HRT poses more risks than benefits. The study found that HRT could actually increase a woman's risk for heart disease—in particular, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots. The US Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that post-menopausal women should not be given HRT to prevent cardiovascular disease.

How To Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk—We Can Help

The good news is that cardiovascular disease is largely preventable with healthy lifestyle changes. Regardless of your age, we can help you reduce your risks. Simple steps that you can take to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and to keep your heart healthy and strong are:

Quit smoking
We have the AcuQuit program consisting of acupuncture and herbs that can help you stop smoking.

Lose weight and maintain a healthy weight
Cut back on foods high in saturated fat, trans-fats and cholesterol. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains. Read your nutrition facts food labels! SFNM has a weight loss/weight management program with a thorough bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) and personalized goal planning, diet recommendations, and exercise recommendations.

Control cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood sugar
There are specific lab tests we can run to help you know your cholesterol and blood sugar status.

Reduce stress
We can help you understand your stressors and provide effective stress management tools such as acupuncture.

Oral contraceptives
If you are over 40 and have other heart disease risk factors, you may want to consider other birth control options besides hormones. We can discuss with you birth control methods that may be better for you.

Better lifestyle habits will aid you in reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Change isn't always easy, but with support from your health care practitioner, family and friends, you can introduce healthy habits into your daily routine. Before you know it, you'll be that much closer to having a healthy heart and body.