It’s never too early to start protecting your heart health. More worrisome than cancer, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and is responsible for more deaths than all types of cancer combined. While it’s true that older women are more at risk for heart disease, younger women can be at risk as well. Read on to learn about how American Heart Month came about, how you can calculate your own risk, and educate your family about cardiovascular and heart disease.
What Is American Heart Month?
American Heart Month first began back in February 1964, enacted under Proclamation 3566 on December 30, 1963, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. From that date forward, Congress requests the sitting president to issue a proclamation stating that February is American Heart Month. It’s a federally recognized month designed to shine a light on cardiovascular disease, hoping that patients will pay attention to their health and lifestyle factors and habits, in addition to keeping regular appointments with their primary care physician and specialists. It is important to remember that heart disease and hypertension, in addition to high blood pressure, are often coined the “silent killers” and can affect you any day out of the year, not just in February.
Go Red for Women
A unique part of American Heart Month is called Go Red for Women, and it launched in 2004 to help bring global awareness to how heart disease particularly affects women. The American Heart Association reports up to 88 percent of millennial women worry about their mothers’ health, and heart disease is the number one risk for mothers of millennials. The Go Red for Women campaign urges women, particularly those over the age of 35, to learn their risk factors and curb lifestyle factors that could put them at further risk for heart disease. There are many factors, including lifestyle and genetics, that could put you at risk for heart problems.
Women’s Risk Factors for Heart Disease
There are many risk factors when it comes to heart disease. Like many other medical conditions, there are some that you can control (like habits and lifestyle decisions) and some that you cannot control (such as genetics). However, knowing about all of the risk factors is vital so that you can be better informed about your health. Some of the factors you cannot control when it comes for risk factors for heart disease include:
- Family history of heart disease, particularly heart disease early in life. While this is a risk factor for both men and women, this poses a higher risk to women.
- Inflammatory diseases. If you have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, it can increase your chance of hypertension or heart attack.
- Complications in pregnancy. If you experience gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy only, it can increase your chances of heart disease later in life.
- Diabetes. Those with both type I and type II diabetes mellitus have a greater chance of heart problems.
- Menopause. Of course, every woman passes through menopause, but if your estrogen levels drop exceedingly low, it can increase your chances of heart disease.
- Depression. There is a correlation between depression and stress and heart attack/stroke and heart problems.
Factors that are in your power when it comes to heart disease include:
- Smoking. Cigarette smoking is one of the most significant factors when it comes to heart disease in women. If you need help quitting, your healthcare provider can help.
- Sedentary lifestyle. Being inactive can lead to heart problems later in life. Even if you only can exercise once or twice a week, be as active as you can.
- Obesity/overweight. Having a body mass index (BMI) above the normal range can lead to heart disease. A healthy diet is recommended that’s full of fiber, leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables. Your physician can help you with a meal plan or exercise plan if this is something you’re struggling with.
- Overuse of alcohol. The use or abuse of alcohol is also correlated with heart problems in women.
It’s also essential to remember to manage other health conditions. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, listen to your physician’s advice regarding management, as disregarding advice can provoke heart problems.
How to Manage Other Health Conditions
It’s important to know how to manage other health conditions. If you have either high blood pressure or diabetes, always take your medications as prescribed. Many patients know not to start a new prescription without letting their doctor know, but many patients forget to consult with their doctor before starting a new diet or a new supplement or vitamin. It’s imperative that you consult with your healthcare provider about every type of medicine you’re taking, even if it’s over the counter or a supplement, as these could interact with high blood pressure or diabetes medications. Also, it’s essential to check your blood sugar daily if you have diabetes, so you know what your levels are. If you plan on becoming pregnant or are pregnant, talk to your doctor immediately about how to manage your medications during pregnancy.
Also, don’t miss your yearly physical appointment. This is when your doctor will check your cholesterol level, which is a significant predictor of heart disease, in addition to standard levels, such as your complete blood count (CBC). Blood tests that come back with irregular results can often be the first predictors of disease, so it’s important to keep this appointment.
How to Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
Eating a heart-healthy diet doesn’t necessarily mean nixing all the foods you’ve come to know and love. Essentially, you should become a little more adept at looking more closely at the labels before you buy foods. Generally speaking, processed foods are never as good for you as whole foods, such as leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables, but not everyone can cook three meals from scratch every day. There are a few key principles to keep in mind when you’re grocery shopping. To eat heart-healthy, keep this in mind:
- Choose low-sodium foods. When you’re reaching for soups, sauces (such as soy sauce), always grab the low-sodium option. Foods high in sodium are notoriously bad for those at risk for heart problems.
- Avoid foods with “trans fat.” Foods with trans fat are some of the worst things you can eat for a heart-healthy diet. They are so bad for you that many food companies stopped using them in foods in the mid-2010s. However, you still may find them in fast food, refrigerated dough, crackers, cookies, vegetable shortening, stick butter, coffee creamer, and frozen pizza. Read the label carefully.
- Cut back on sugar. Often, “sugar” won’t be listed as an ingredient, so instead look for something like fructose, glucose, corn syrup, or sucrose. Those are all sugar as well.
Know the Signs of a Heart Attack
Everyone needs to know the signs of a heart attack, should you or someone close to you suddenly fall ill. If you believe you or someone else is experiencing a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Some telltale signs of a heart attack include:
- Cold sweats
- Unexplained, sudden tiredness
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Heavy pain in the chest
- Shortness of breath
It’s important to note that it is possible to experience a heart attack without feeling chest discomfort. This is why knowledge of the other symptoms is important. Women are more likely to experience other symptoms, as well as jaw pain and back pain. Knowing these common symptoms can help save a life. If you need more information about women and heart disease, or if you would like an appointment to be evaluated, request an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic. Staffed with a professional, caring team, we provide comprehensive care in both our Jackson and Madison offices.