Many women don’t think of heart health as a top concern, but recent data show why they should. Not only are heart attacks the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. annually, causing more deaths than all types of cancer combined, data from the American Heart Association show that the incidence of cardiovascular disease is rising in women under the age of 55. That increase in poorer heart health is linked to an increase in the number of women under 55 who have key risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
In addition, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that treatment for heart disease differs between men and women. The study authors reviewed 43 international studies from the period spanning 2000 to 2019 that provided data about primary care prescriptions for approximately two million patients who were at risk of a heart attack or had established cardiovascular disease. They found that female patients were prescribed medications used to lower the risk of heart attack less frequently than male patients:
· Statin medications were prescribed 10% less for women.
· ACE inhibitors were prescribed 15% less.
· Aspirin was prescribed 9% less.
What women should do to protect their cardiovascular health
There are several proactive steps women can take to protect and improve their heart health. To build an effective strategy, start by talking with your primary care physician. These are the questions you should ask to start a conversation about how you can manage your cardiovascular risk:
· Based on my personal and family history and risk factors, am I at an increased risk for heart disease?
· Could heart disease be the cause of any symptoms I’m experiencing such as fatigue, shortness of breath, pain in the neck or jaw, upper back pain, swollen feet or ankles, or cough?
· Are there diagnostic or screening tests I should undergo as part of a plan to assess and manage my heart disease risk?
· What lifestyle changes (physical activity, diet, weight loss, smoking cessation, alcohol use) can I make to lower my risk of heart disease and improve my health?
· Should I see a cardiologist or can you effectively manage my heart health?
· Are there medications I should take to manage my risk?
· Do any of the other health issues I’ve been diagnosed with or treatments I’ve undergone increase my risk for heart disease, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, treatment for breast cancer, or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure?
· Does being post-menopausal affect my risk?
A health advisor can also be a valuable ally as you work to develop and follow a plan to manage your heart health. An advisor can help you get a second opinion, connect you with specialists, and provide support, guidance, and evidence-based information about your risk management and treatment options.