Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute Goes Red for Women
What should you know about women and heart disease? Ewa Dembowski, MD, cardiologist, and Marla Mendelson, MD, medical director of the Program for Women’s Cardiovascular Health at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, shared these facts about why you should Go Red for Women.
The more a woman knows about heart disease, the better her chance of preventing it. According to the American Heart Association, 90% of women in the US have one or more risk factors for heart disease at some point in their lives. Yet 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable by controlling these risk factors.
Here are 5 facts you should know about heart disease in women.
1. More women need to be enrolled in clinical trials.
While cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in women, women continue to be underrepresented in scientific research broadly. Women represent less than 40% of those enrolled in heart disease and stroke clinical research. Women of color are especially underrepresented – accounting for only 3% of clinical trial participants.
2. All women should regularly assess their risk for heart disease.
Most of us are aware of the key “heart-health numbers” to know: blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. It is important to regularly assess these numbers and to take action if these numbers are not at target goal.
3. Pregnancy is a unique time to unmask risk for cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of maternal death in the US. The American Heart Association recommends scheduling a “pre-pregnancy” evaluation to assess and modify cardiovascular risk factors for future pregnancy. Improving cardiovascular health before and during the early stages of pregnancy can lead not only to a healthier pregnancy, but also greatly improves a woman's long-term heart health. In addition, women who have had a pregnancy-related health problem – including preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes or preterm birth – are at higher risk for heart disease years later and are an important group to integrate into a preventive care system as soon as possible.
4. Women should especially focus on their heart health in the midlife transition.
The years in a woman's life leading to menopause, the midlife transition, are a critical time for preventing heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol levels, the risks for developing metabolic syndrome and changes in the structure of blood vessels all appear to increase with menopause, beyond the effects of normal aging. The characteristic hot flashes and night sweats of menopause are associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Women who experience menopause at an earlier age have a higher risk of heart disease in future.
5. Changes to lifestyle can reduce the risk for heart disease in women by as much as 80%.
o DIET: Fewer than 20% of women consistently maintain a heart-healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains. Small but consistent dietary changes can make a big difference in the long run. Keeping a food journal of everything that is consumed, including beverages and snacks, is a great way to promote dietary changes and has been shown to result in weight loss.
o EXERCISE: Only about 7% of women get the AHA recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, reduces coronary heart disease by 20%. Providing specific recommendations for exercise in an “exercise prescription”, can increase adherence to this recommendation.
o SLEEP: Getting less than six to seven hours of sleep at night increases risk for heart disease. Poor sleep increases blood pressure, prevents weight loss, and inhibits exercise.
o MENTAL WELL-BEING: Managing stress and improving mental health, including emotional, psychological and social well-being, may lower cardiovascular disease. Heart healthy exercise and diet has been shown to improve mental well-being. In addition, practicing mindfulness and meditation may also decrease stress, lower blood pressure, and improve quality of sleep.
For more information about the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, or to make an appointment, visit heart.nm.org or call (312) NM-HEART.