Silent Danger: How Healthy Women Might Still Face Heart Risks

Heart disease often flies under the radar in women, even though it’s the leading cause of death among females in the United States. Many people assume that heart problems are mainly a man’s issue. However, the truth is a staggering 489,000 women die of heart disease every year – more than men.

The issue is not the heart alone. The tiny microvessels in the heart often remain “undetected” and could lead to severe heart attacks or even worse. As a result, it’s essential to understand the signs, causes, and ways to protect oneself from coronary artery disease and other heart issues and improve overall heart health.

Watch out for ischemic syndrome

Ischemic syndrome, a condition caused by reduced blood flow to the heart due to clogged arteries, can lead to heart attacks if not detected and treated. Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE), conducted by the National Institutes of Health, discovered that blockages and stiffening in women’s smaller heart blood vessels, or microvessels, prevented oxygen-rich blood from reaching heart tissue. Standard procedures involve cardiologists examining the coronary artery for obstructions. However, when angiography tests fail to detect blocked microvessels, doctors are more likely to misdiagnose women’s symptoms or overlook them entirely.

Take preventive steps

Fortunately, there are ways to take care of your heart and prevent blood vessel damage. Incorporate these heart-healthy choices into your lifestyle for a stronger, healthier heart:

1. Get moving

Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy heart. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. Mix up your routine with a combination of aerobic exercises, strength training, and stretching.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

Carrying excess body fat, especially around the waist, increases your risk of heart disease. Maintain a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a balanced diet. Focus on whole grains, lean proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

3. Kick the habit

Quit smoking and using tobacco products. Smoking damages your heart and blood vessels and increases your risk of heart disease. If you’re struggling to quit, consider seeking help from a support group or healthcare professional.

4. Keep a close eye on cholesterol levels

High cholesterol levels can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. Aim to keep your total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL, with LDL (“bad” cholesterol) under 100 mg/dL and HDL (“good” cholesterol) over 60 mg/dL.

5. Balance blood sugar levels

High blood sugar levels can damage your heart and blood vessels. For optimal heart health, aim to keep your fasting blood sugar under 100 mg/dL and your hemoglobin A1C (a measure of long-term blood sugar control) under 5.7%.

6. Control blood pressure levels

High blood pressure stresses your heart and can lead to heart disease. Maintain a blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg or lower through lifestyle changes such as a low-sodium diet, exercise, and stress management.

7. Manage your mental health

Depression and anxiety can increase your risk of heart disease. Seek treatment for mental health issues and practice stress management techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing, and exercise.

8. Get regular checkups

If you have increased risk factors for heart disease, such as being premenopausal, African American, having a family history of heart disease, or having autoimmune disorders, make sure to get regular checkups with your doctor to manage your risk. Early detection and treatment can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your overall health.

In conclusion, taking charge of your heart health is crucial for women, especially given the prevalence of heart disease. Incorporate these lifestyle choices into your daily routine and stay vigilant about your heart’s health for a longer, healthier life.