Women & Heart Disease

February is American Heart Month.The leading cause of death in the United States continues to be cardiovascular disease (CVD), which includes heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke. Both men and women have heart attacks, but more women who have heart attacks die from them. Treatments can limit heart damage but they must be given as soon as possible after a heart attack starts. Ideally, treatment should start within one hour of the first symptoms.

To kick off this milestone, The American Heart Association launched its first-ever National Wear Red Day! It’s been 10 years on February 1, women nationwide sport the shade to raise awareness for their number one killer: heart disease. But what started as an effort to educate is now a full-on revolution. And that’s why, this year, the AHA doesn’t want you to wear red for a day—they want you to wear it all month long. Their red coats, scarves, pins, and even glowsticks symbolized the ongoing prevalence of heart disease among women nationwide. The illness, in fact, no longer primarily impacts men: heart disease claims the lives of more than 2,150 American women every single day.

Important risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Age (55 or older for women)

For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55. After menopause, women are more apt to get heart disease, in part because their body’s production of estrogen drops. Women who have gone through early menopause, either naturally or because they have had a hysterectomy, are twice as likely to develop heart disease as women of the same age who have not yet gone through menopause.

Guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) urge women to be more aggressive about cutting their cardiovascular disease risk. For some women, this includes a daily aspirin. But, the routine use of daily aspirin therapy to prevent heart disease in low-risk women younger than 65 years old isn’t recommended.The AHA guidelines do recommend that women of any age consider taking between 75 and 325 milligrams of aspirin daily if they have diabetes or if they already have heart disease. The AHA also recommends that women over 65 years can benefit from a daily 81-milligram aspirin if their blood pressure is controlled and the risk of digestive bleeding is low. Aspirin might also be considered for at-risk women younger than 65 years for stroke prevention.But, don’t start taking aspirin for heart disease prevention on your own. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking aspirin based on your individual risk factor.

Know your family history of CHD(coronary heart disease). If you or someone in your family has CHD, be sure to tell your doctor.Following a healthy diet also is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, you also may need medicines to control your CHD risk factors. Take all of your medicines as prescribed.Be as physically active as you can.

Celeste Botonakis

On the Nursing Assistant Guides blog, certified medical assistant Celeste Botonakis explores the daily life of a CMA. She'll keep you up-to-date with the latest on what’s happening in the field, and provides tips for those who are interested in becoming a medical or nursing assistant. Celeste has served in the medical field for over six years, and is passionate about helping people. She currently works at CSR Primary Care in Skokie, Illinois. Click here to learn more about Celeste Botonakis and NursingAssistantGuides.com.