Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by women about heart disease.
There are many different kinds of heart disease but atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries, is by far the most common. This is caused by the trapping of cholesterol-carrying particles in the coronary arteries, which bring blood directly to the heart. This trapping causes a gradual build-up of plaque, which narrows the arteries, leading to poor blood circulation. This can cause sudden blood clots, which block the arteries and stop the flow of blood to the heart muscle. If this happens for more than 30 minutes, the affected area of the heart will die, which is what we know as a heart attack.
Atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries, can also affect the blood vessels that bring blood to the brain. A stroke is caused when these blood vessels are blocked by a clot due to hardened arteries.
The major causes of heart disease are elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity and smoking.
The chances of heart disease increase markedly in men after 50 and women after 60.
Chronic partial narrowing of the coronary arteries can result in abnormally limited increase in blood flow on exercise. The consequence can be chest pain or angina on exertion. Angina is an important symptom of coronary atherosclerosis.
Angina or what is typically called chest pain may present itself in a variety of ways. It may or may not feel like pain. These symptoms may include one or all of the following:
- a sensation of burning, heaviness, pressure or tightness or pain usually in the chest, left arm, between the shoulder blades or in the jaw
- shortness of breath
- extreme fatigue
- feeling sweaty
These can be symptoms sign of a heart attack. If you have these symptoms, it is vital that you inform your physician or see a physician urgently.
Normal blood pressure is 120/80. Pre-hypertension is 120-139/80-89. Hypertension is >140/90. Women with hypertension should consult their health care professional to find out how they can reduce their risk of heart disease, which is already very high.
You can achieve and maintain a normal blood pressure by losing weight, increasing your level of physical activity, eating less salt, and consuming less alcohol.
Total cholesterol should be under 5.2 mmol/L. The bad cholesterol LDL-C should be under 3.3 . This bad cholesterol can narrow coronary arteries which can decrease the blood supply to the heart. One major way to lower LDL-C is weight loss. The ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) on the other hand may be protective. The HDL-C level should be above 1.5.
Making lifestyle changes like increasing your physical activity, losing weight, eating less fat and more fruits and vegetables, can help improve reduce your cholesterol level. In addition, medication may be required for women with a significantly high cholesterol level.
The results from your annual blood tests should indicate that your normal blood sugar when fasting is less than 7.0. If it is higher than 7.0, you could have diabetes so you should consult your doctor about this.
Women who smoke are six times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smoking women. Smoking cessation is essential for heart health.
The Body Mass Index of a healthy woman is 21-25. If yours is higher than 25, you are likely overweight and should make some changes to your diet and exercise routine in order to improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease. Too much abdominal fat around your waist can be a risk for heart disease. Your waist should be 35 inches (88cm) or less.
In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent heart disease, you should exercise at least 150 minutes or 2 hours per week. Any activity (dancing, walking, skipping, biking etc.) of moderate intensity can benefit your cardiovascular fitness, lower your blood sugar and blood pressure, help maintain weight loss and reduce your cholesterol level.