A staggering statistic stands before us: one woman loses her life to cardiovascular disease every single minute. A haunting reality unfolds, revealing that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for women, claiming more lives than any other condition. Despite these alarming truths, merely 8 percent of women recognize CVD as the gravest threat to their well-being. These heart-wrenching numbers demand our attention, as CVD is a sinister threat that can strike women in their forties, fifties, and sixties. It’s essential that we unveil the concealed dangers of these common cardiovascular diseases that quietly endanger women’s lives.
COMMON CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASES
1. Angina: The Whisper of an Impending Storm
Angina, often referred to as chest pain, arises when the heart’s blood supply is restricted. This discomfort is a whisper of the storm that could come, a warning sign that should never be ignored. Untreated angina can lead to more severe cardiovascular events, making early recognition and intervention pivotal.
2. Arrhythmias: The Unseen Disruptor
Arrhythmias are irregular heart rhythms that can disrupt how the heart delivers oxygen to body tissues. Some arrhythmias carry the perilous potential to lead to blood clots, which, in turn, may result in a life-altering stroke. The silent nature of arrhythmias highlights the importance of regular heart health check-ups for women of all ages.
3. Atherosclerosis: The Undercover Culprit
Atherosclerosis operates in the shadows, with the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, inflammatory cells, and other substances in arteries. These silent plaques gradually reduce blood flow and can rupture, causing life-threatening blood clots. Atherosclerosis is not just a risk factor; it’s a precursor to heart attacks and strokes.
4. Heart Attack: The Silent Striker
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is significantly reduced, damaging this vital organ. The stealthy nature of heart attacks emphasizes the necessity of recognizing early warning signs and addressing risk factors before it’s too late.
5. Heart Failure: The Quiet Aggressor
Heart failure is a devious adversary, arising from damaged heart muscles that impede the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. Over time, this condition can disrupt the body’s equilibrium, leading to a cascade of health complications. Early detection and prevention are key in mitigating this threat.
6. Hypertension: The Silent Saboteur
Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure, is a complex interplay of changes involving blood vessels, the heart, and chemical signals. Although not a disease in itself, it acts as a silent saboteur, damaging vital organs such as the heart, brain, and kidneys. Hypertension lurks as a precursor to heart attacks and strokes, making its control imperative.
7. Peripheral Artery Disease: The Quiet Leg Thief
Peripheral artery disease, characterized by reduced blood flow to the legs due to narrowed arteries, stealthily causes pain and tissue damage. Vigilance and early intervention can help preserve the quality of life for those at risk.
8. Stroke (Ischemic): The Sneaky Intruder
Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot severely limits blood flow to a part of the brain. Atherosclerosis amplifies the risk, and any condition promoting blood clotting heightens the danger. The silent intrusion of ischemic strokes emphasizes the need for ongoing vigilance and preventative measures.
POSSIBLE SYMPTOMS OF A HEART ATTACK IN WOMEN
- Chest pain / tightness sensation
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
- Cold sweats
- Unusual sensations in the back or in the arms
- Sleep disturbances
- Severe fatigue for days or weeks
RISK FACTORS FOR CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASES
- Estrogen Decline: Reduction in estrogen levels, which makes our blood vessels less resilient against atherosclerosis and less effective in regulating inflammation.
- Post-Menopausal Fat Accumulation: The accumulation of metabolically active fat that tends to increase in women after menopause, heightening the risk of cardiovascular issues.
- Advancing Age: The risk of CVD naturally increases with age as the body undergoes various changes.
- Smoking: Tobacco use, including smoking, is a potent risk factor for CVD.
- Physical Inactivity: A lack of physical activity can contribute to the development of cardiovascular issues.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Being sedentary, or leading a predominantly inactive life, increases the risk of CVD.
- Excess Weight: Carrying excess weight or obesity is a known risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
- High Blood Pressure: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, places additional strain on the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of CVD.
- Type 2 Diabetes: This metabolic disorder significantly elevates the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
- Endometriosis: If you have endometriosis, work with your healthcare provider to manage the condition effectively. Reducing inflammation and managing pain can be crucial for overall health.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): Women with PCOS should work with their healthcare team to address hormonal imbalances and manage the condition, as it can impact metabolic and cardiovascular health.
- Gestational Diabetes: If you’ve had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, stay vigilant about your blood sugar levels. Regular monitoring and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and CVD.
- High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy (Preeclampsia): If you’ve experienced high blood pressure during pregnancy, it’s essential to monitor your blood pressure regularly and make lifestyle changes to reduce CVD risk.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- LIPID SCREENING TEST
Cholesterol: Ideal levels are typically between 125-200 mg/dL.
HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein): A healthy range for HDL cholesterol is above 40 mg/dL.
LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein): For LDL cholesterol, the target is to keep it below 100 mg/dL.
Normal: <150 mg/dL
Borderline: 150-199 mg/dL
High: 200 mg/dL or above
2. TYPE 2 DIABETES SCREENING
Regularly get screened for type 2 diabetes, especially if you have risk factors such as a family history of diabetes, obesity, or an unhealthy diet. Early detection and management of diabetes can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications.
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Engage in regular physical activity to promote heart health. Strive for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense activity per week. This can include activities like brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling. Physical activity helps improve cardiovascular health and can also help manage weight.
- AVOID PROLONGED SITTING OR LYING DOWN: Aim to minimize prolonged periods of sedentary behavior. Break up long stretches of sitting with short, active breaks. This can be as simple as standing up, stretching, or taking a short walk. Reducing sedentary time is important for overall health and can lower CVD risk.
3. EAT A BALANCED, HEALTHY DIET
- CONSUME A VARIETY OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: Aim for at least 5 servings per day. They are rich in antioxidants and fiber, which support heart health.
- INCLUDE WHOLE GRAINS such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, and oats in your diet. These provide essential nutrients and fiber.
- CHOOSE LEAN SOURCES OF PROTEIN like poultry, fish, beans, and legumes. Limit red meat consumption and opt for lean cuts.
- INCORPORATE HEALTHY FATS from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These unsaturated fats can help improve cholesterol levels.
- LIMIT PROCESSED AND REFINED FOODS, which often contain unhealthy trans fats and high levels of sodium. Processed foods can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.
- CONTROL PORTION SIZES: Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating, which can lead to weight gain. Smaller portions can help maintain a healthy weight, a critical factor in heart health.
- REDUCE SODIUM INTAKE: Limit your salt intake. High sodium levels can contribute to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for CVD. Avoid adding extra salt to your meals, and check food labels for high sodium content.
- MONITOR SATURATED AND TRANS FAT INTAKE: Minimize consumption of foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as fried foods, baked goods, and some processed snacks. These fats can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
- CHOOSE HEART HEALTHY COOKING METHODS: Opt for healthier cooking methods like grilling, baking, steaming, and sautéing instead of frying. These methods reduce the amount of unhealthy fats in your diet.
- LIMIT ADDED SUGARS: Be mindful of added sugars in your diet, as they can contribute to weight gain and related health issues. Sugary beverages and processed snacks are common sources of added sugars.
- STAY HYDRATED: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Limit sugary drinks and excessive caffeine intake.
- ALCOHOL IN MODERATION: If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. For women, this typically means up to one drink per day. Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of CVD.
- OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: Incorporate sources of omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, and walnuts. These healthy fats have been shown to benefit heart health.
- DIETARY FIBER: Consume foods rich in dietary fiber, such as whole grains, legumes, and fruits. Fiber can help lower cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health.
- NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS: Discuss with your healthcare provider if you should take nutritional supplements, such as omega-3 fish oil, if you have specific risk factors or dietary deficiencies.
- CUSTOMIZE YOUR DIET: Consider consulting a registered dietitian or nutritionist to create a personalized nutrition plan that addresses your specific needs and risk factors.
4. PRIORITIZE SLEEP AND RELAXATION FOR HEART HEALTH
Quality sleep and relaxation play a pivotal role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD):
QUALITY SLEEP: Adequate rest is essential to manage stress and maintain emotional well-being. Sleep is a natural stress reducer and supports heart health.
RELAXATION TECNIQUES: Practices like meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation help calm the mind and reduce stress-related symptoms.
5. GET YOURSELF A PET
The unconditional love that animals can bring into our lives has a remarkable impact on our hearts. Their presence has a calming effect, promoting stability in our blood vessels and heart rhythm. The therapeutic influence of animals extends to lowering our blood pressure as well. In fact, studies have shown that cat owners are 30 percent less likely to experience a heart attack and 40 percent less likely to suffer a stroke. These furry companions offer genuine healing for our hearts and well-being.
Midlife is a season of rejuvenation, whether you welcome a new pet, a new job, or a new partner. At this juncture, the midlife heart is akin to a fresh, budding shoot, tender and full of life. It’s crucial not to let it be trampled upon. Instead, embrace the opportunity to safeguard it. Seek assistance when needed and be open to receiving it. Allow your heart to unfurl and be guided by its innate wisdom as you journey homeward. Always keep in mind, midlife is indeed a beautiful new beginning.