Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Women

Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Women

Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Women

Risk factors are habits, traits or conditions that may increase your chance of developing a disease. Research shows that modifying your risk factors can prolong and improve the quality of your life. The key is to know your risk factors and to modify them.

Modifiable Risk Factors

Risk factors that you can control (modifiable) include:

Diabetes: Women with diabetes are two to six times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Women with diabetes are also more likely to have other modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, in addition to diabetes.

Poor nutrition: Reduce your risk of heart and vascular disease by making healthy food choices.

High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the risk for developing heart disease and strokes in women. It is important to note that high blood pressure can be silent, and the only way you will know your blood pressure is elevated is if your blood pressure is checked. Your blood pressure is more likely to be elevated if you:

  • Have a family history of hypertension
  • Smoke
  • Are obese
  • Are pregnant
  • Have reached menopause

High cholesterol: High cholesterol can increase your risk of developing heart and vascular disease. Cholesterol should be screened starting at the age of 20. The good cholesterol (HDL) may be more important in protecting you from cardiovascular disease. You should discuss your cholesterol levels with your physician annually to ensure you are achieving your target cholesterol levels.

Overweight or obesity: Being overweight or obese or having a waist circumference greater than 35 inches places you at a higher risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and ultimately a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Inactivity or poor fitness: Those who are physically inactive are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared with someone who is physically active. An inactive person is more likely to become overweight, develop diabetes, have high blood pressure, raise their bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower their good cholesterol (HDL). The higher your level of physical fitness, the lower your risk of dying from cardiovascular-related deaths and deaths from any cause.

Smoking: Smoking cigarettes and even secondhand smoke is a major cause of cardiovascular disease in women. Women who use birth control pills and also smoke are at a high risk for a heart attack and stroke.

Stress: To improve the quality of your life, enhance your emotional functioning and protect your cardiac and vascular health, try to reduce the amount of avoidable stress in your life. Practice healthy ways to cope with the stress you cannot avoid.

Non-modifiable Risk Factors

Risk factors that you cannot control (non-modifiable) include:

Age: As women age, the risk of heart disease and stroke increases.

Family history of cardiovascular disease: If your brother or father had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mother or sister had a heart attack before age 65, you are more likely to develop heart disease. If a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke, you are at greater risk of a stroke. If you have this family history, you should be screened for heart disease and its risk factors.

Personal history of cardiovascular disease: If you have had a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), your risk of stroke is increased over those who have no history. If you have a history of heart attack, you are at higher risk of having a stroke.

Race: The risk of having a stroke varies with race and ethnicity. African-American women have a greater incidence of stroke and are more likely to die of a stroke than non-Hispanic white women or Hispanic people in the United States.

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