Here’s Why Women Are More At Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
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Over the years, we’ve witnessed a rise in cardiovascular diseases, especially in women. Turns out, your gender really does decide your chances of having a heart disease. Here’s the how and why.Let’s begin by acknowledging that the risk of cardiovascular disease (CD) in men and women is the same, biologically. It’s the risk due to lifestyle factors that varies. These factors, called risk factors, also mean that existing heart conditions may get worse. The American Heart Association has released a few statistics since its inception that are valid for the US, but essentially throw a lot of light on women’s health, universally. 44 million women in the US alone suffer from cardiovascular disease, and fewer women survive their first heart attack than men. And most alarmingly, 90 per cent of women have at least 1 risk factor for heart disease or stroke.
So what makes women more prone to cardiovascular disease? Please be ready to take copious notes.
1. Smoking – Smoking tobacco, or long-term exposure to second-hand smoke puts women at great risk of developing heart disease. Smoking leads to clots in the arteries, which can further block plaque-narrowed arteries, leading to a heart attack. For reasons unknown, studies claim that women are more at risk than men, even those who smoke as few as 2 cigarettes a day.
2. Diabetes and prediabetes – Everyone knows diabetes well these days. Let’s decipher pre-diabetes then. Pre-diabetes is when your blood sugar is higher than normal, but still not as high as observed in diabetic patients. Pre-diabetes puts women at double risk – of diabetes, and of cardiovascular disease, more than men. Before menopause, oestrogen provides a woman protection against CD, which slowly goes down with age. But in diabetic patients, the disease counters the protective effects of oestrogen.
3. Apples and pears – This point is not for all women, but those who have apple-shaped bodies, and carry most of their weight around their tummy seem to be more at risk of heart disease than their pear-shaped contemporaries.
4. Birth control pills – Doctors and researchers have been open in recent years about how birth control pills lead to high blood pressure in young women. Combined with smoking, it takes the risk of CD up by a whopping 20 per cent. Of course, women who have a family history of high blood pressure are even more at risk.
5. Menopause – The decline in natural oestrogen is known to contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease, but other factors related to menopause, listed below, add to the risk as well:
- Changes in the walls of blood vessels, increasing chances of a clot formation.
- Changes in fat levels in the body, because of an increase in LDL and a decrease in HDL levels.
- Rise in fibrinogen levels (a substance that helps blood to clot).
Other risk factors include being overweight, and kidney disease. It’s important for women over 40 to get themselves checked regularly for any irregularity. And even if your doctor just congratulated you on your healthy heart, it’s still wise to try and stay low-risk. Here’s how to get started:
- Avoid, or quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Exercise for more than 30 minutes, at least 3 days a week.
- Follow a diet low in saturated and trans fat, and high in whole grains, legumes, and fibre.
- Keep diabetes, cholesterol, and other risk factors such as high blood pressure, in check.