For women in Texas, notably but not exclusively in the larger cities of Dallas, Houston and Austin, health is an ongoing concern, as it is in other areas of the country. One of the biggest health issues is one that’s closest to the heart. Quite literally.
The fact is, heart disease is responsible for the death of more American women under the age of 45 than any other single disease, including breast cancer. Whether someone has health insurance or not, more than half a million women a year die from heart disease. And more than 60% of those had no previous symptoms.
When a woman does find herself suffering from heart disease, she’s less likely than a man to receive aggressive medical treatment, according to the American Heart Association. She’s also more likely than a man to die from heart disease: 38% of women (compared with 25% of men) will die within one year following a heart attack.
While two risk factors — the aging process itself and a family history of heart disease — aren’t something a woman can change, others can be changed.
Smoking is one area that can tip the scales in favor of a woman, as far as risk of heart disease is concerned. With numerous support programs available, in cities such as Houston, Dallas and Austin and throughout Texas, a woman wanting to quit smoking is well-equipped to do so, with the healthful benefits to follow.
And more and more people are deciding to quit, the overall number of adult smokers having decreased during the last 20 years.
Unfortunately, the number of teenage girls that are taking up the habit is actually increasing, which is a reason for concern. Smoking lowers levels of good cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. And cigarette smoking combined with the use of birth control pills has also been shown to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Another factor that contributes to heart disease is high blood pressure or hypertension. Left untreated, the condition makes the heart work harder, speeds up hardening of the arteries (known as atherosclerosis) and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. While high blood pressure can sometimes occur during pregnancy, it usually goes away after childbirth. Although high blood pressure cannot be cured, doctors say it can be controlled with diet, exercise, and, if necessary, medicines.
Cholesterol levels are another risk factor when it comes to heart disease, and women in general have higher cholesterol levels than men due to the positive effect of estrogen on HDL, one of the most important predictors of cardiovascular health, according to a study in the American Journal of Cardiology. In short, the higher the level of HDL cholesterol, the less likely a woman is to have a heart attack or stroke. Once a woman goes through menopause, however, HDL levels tend to drop, increasing the risk of heart disease. HDL and LDL cholesterol levels can be improved by diet, exercise and, in some cases, cholesterol-lowering medicines.
Want more out of life? One way is to become less of a person, at least so far as your weight is concerned. Obesity is certainly a strong predictor for heart disease, but where the weight settles is also an important factor. The Texas Heart Institute, based at Houston’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, says women who have a lot of fat around the waist are at greater risk than those who have fat around the hips. A plan of diet and exercise approved by a doctor is the best way to safely lose weight.
Yet another area of health concern in women at risk for heart disease is diabetes. A correlation between obesity, physical inactivity and high cholesterol levels may be part of the reason, but studies show that women with diabetes have a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than men with diabetes do. Proper management of diabetes is, therefore, even more important to women, throughout Texas and elsewhere.
Birth control pills may also pose an increased cardiovascular risk for women, especially those with other risk factors such as smoking. Researchers believe birth control pills raise blood pressure and blood sugar levels in some women and also increase the risk of blood clots, risks which increase as women get older. The advice of some: communicate with your doctor about any other cardiovascular risk factors that might exist, before taking birth control pills.
Drinking alcohol on an excessive basis is another risk factor when it comes to heart disease in women, notably in terms of its contribution to obesity and the raising of triglyceride and blood pressure levels, all factors which can cause heart failure and lead to stroke. While some studies have shown that the risk of heart disease in those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol can be lower than among those who do not drink alcohol, it doesn’t mean those who do not drink should start or that those who do drink alcohol should increase the amount they drink. For women, a moderate amount of alcohol is considered to be one drink per day.
Hopefully, none of this is adding to your levels of stress, which is, itself, considered to be a contributing risk factor for both men and women. While researchers are as yet unclear about the relationship to heart disease, stress can lead to other risk factors such as smoking and overeating.
For women in particular, heart disease can be a significant health concern. Thankfully, there are things that anyone can do to reduce that risk. Yet even then, knowing that various options exist can be something of value.