15 Heart Attack Prevention Tips Every Woman Must Know
Heart disease kills one woman every 80 seconds. The statistics are scary, but 80 percent of heart disease is preventable through lifestyle changes, according to the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women. Here are the life-saving changes you can start making today.
Limit the vino
You’ve long heard that a little vino is good for your heart. Still, women can’t go drink-for-drink with their male counterparts. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends, women stick to one drink per day maximum (men can have two). More than that can increase risk for high blood pressure, unhealthy levels of triglycerides, and heart failure. Watch out for the 11 silent signs of heart trouble you should never ignore.
Mind your mental health
How you feel on the day-to-day matters. “We know depression increases the risk of heart disease by two- to four-fold, and it’s more prevalent in women,” says cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., a preventive cardiologist from New York and a national Go Red For Women volunteer. There is no need to “tough it out”—seek out help (a good place to start is your doctor). Try one of these 45 things that heart doctors do to protect their own hearts.
Dial down stress
Everyone experiences stress, but when it gets out of hand, it can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke, according to the AHA. One way stress jeopardizes heart health is by raising blood pressure. In women, finding ways to limit worry is even more critical, as according to one systematic review in the journal Brain and Behavior in 2016, women are particularly susceptible to anxiety-related disorders.
Exercise is important for everyone when it comes to preventing heart attacks. But there’s good news: You don’t have to—and maybe shouldn’t—be a marathoner to benefit your heart. In a study of more than one million women, those who reported that they exercised moderately had lower risks of heart attacks and strokes then sedentary women as well as those who fell into the more extreme end of the fitness category. Women who reported doing strenuous physical activity daily had an increased risk. The lesson: Staying active is important—but you don’t have to run yourself ragged to reap the heart benefits. Check out the 30 ways you can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Know the signs
Women don’t always get the classic signs of chest pain and arm numbness, warns the AHA. They might experience palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. “These are all potentially signs of heart disease, but you may not know something’s wrong with your heart,” says Dr. Steinbaum. Paying close attention to these signs—and not relying on the stereotypical chest-clutching as a clue—can be key to your getting help when you need it. Make sure you know the signs you might be headed for a heart attack.
Have a well-woman visit
Of all the compelling reasons not to skip your annual OB-GYN appointment, even if you’re not due for a pap—taking care of your heart may be the most important. At that appointment, you should get your cholesterol (including HDL), blood pressure, blood sugar, and BMI checked, so you have a clear picture about your risk factors for a heart attack. Ask about these tests that detect silent heart disease symptoms.
Learn the stats
Courtesy Women For One
Breast cancer gets all the press, but heart disease is the number one deadliest disease for women. Understanding the statistics as they affect women—young women—can help keep heart health front of mind no matter your age. For women ages 20 and older, one-third of white and Hispanic women and half of African American women have cardiovascular disease, Dr. Steinbaum points out. “Screening needs to begin early and regularly,” she says.
Stop smoking. Really.
You know smoking is bad for you, even if you’re a causal smoker. “Very light smoking” (defined as five or fewer cigarettes per day) is increasingly prevalent in young women, reports research in Preventing Chronic Diseases. This group was even likely to understand the health hazards that come from smoking. “Every time you inhale, you’re putting yourself at risk in the moment and long-term,” says Dr. Steinbaum. Make sure you know the warning signs for the 5 types of heart disease.
Watch your HDL
Your total cholesterol is important, but one number especially stands out: your “good” HDL cholesterol. It’s the type that is heart-protective, and women want to aim for a number greater than 60—which is tough to achieve as you get older. “When women are young and have lots of estrogen, HDL is naturally high. During perimenopause and menopause, this number naturally drops,” says Dr. Steinbaum. What can you do to keep up your number? Exercise, she says.
Measure your waist
Belly fat hugs your organs, creating dangerous inflammation that can, among other ills, up your risk for heart disease. A woman’s waist should measure no more than 35 inches around. That said, you don’t have to focus on losing a ton of weight. What matters more is living a heart-healthy lifestyle by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising—no matter what you weigh, according to Dr. Steinbaum. Lay off the junk food and start chowing down on the 50 best foods for your heart.
Track your health during pregnancy
If you had high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during pregnancy, the health threat doesn’t just go away after your nine months are up. “Having either of these conditions increases your cardiovascular risk later in life,” says Dr. Steinbaum. If you’re in this camp, it means you need to be even more diligent about the lifestyle factors that keep your ticker in shape.
If you’re not clocking seven to eight hours per night, it’s time to slip into bed sooner. Too little sleep is damaging for overall heart health, but women see additional consequences, like sleepiness during the day and a higher risk of depression, research shows. This is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack.
Young women need to know about MVD
Coronary microvascular disease (MVD) is a type of heart disease that impacts small blood vessels, and it’s more common in women—particularly young women. Traditional tests that look for blockages in larger arteries can’t detect MVD, the AHA says. You’re better off asking your doctor to give you a questionnaire called the Duke Activity Status Index (DASI), which asks about your ability to partake in activities such as housework, yard work, and sex.
In the last several years, researchers have come to realize that women have the same or higher risk as men for a condition called peripheral artery disease (PAD)—a narrowing of arteries in the legs and arms, which constricts blood flow. Guidelines put forth in 2011 suggest that both women and their doctors should be educated on the potential risk, especially when women have other risk factors, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol. The signs of PAD include painful cramping after walking, shiny skin on your legs, and coldness in one of your lower legs or foot. These are the 6 most dangerous times for your heart, according to a cardiologist.
Control your blood pressure
In the last 30 years, the number of women under age 45 with high blood pressure has doubled. As a result, new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend that people with blood pressure readings of 130/80 mm Hg should be treated for high blood pressure (previously it was 140/90). Regular exercise plus a low-sodium diet that features plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy omega-3 fats (from sources like fatty fish) can do wonders, says Dr. Steinbaum. Next, check out the 14 things you think cause heart disease but actually don’t.