Are you taking good care of your ticker?
By Wendy Haaf
If you think heart disease is a man’s problem, here’s a reality check. While a woman’s risk is lower earlier in adulthood, once she reaches menopause, everything changes.
At that point, “the rate in the rise of that risk is about two times steeper than it is for men,” notes Dr. Ross Feldman, a scientist at the Robarts Research Institute and professor emeritus at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, both in London, ON.
That’s not all. Not only are post-menopausal women more apt to have risk factors for heart disease, such as hypertension, and to have multiple risk factors compared to men of the same age, but “if they do have a heart attack, they’re more likely to die within the first 30 days, they’re more likely to experience complications [from procedures to reopen blocked arteries], and they’re less likely to be treated appropriately with medications,” Feldman adds.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed—it means only that when you reach menopause, you have even more reason than ever to do what you can to decrease your risk.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, nearly 80 per cent of premature heart attacks and strokes could be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices—such as eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, fitting in at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol use, and maintaining a healthy weight. And if you take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), you should discuss options with your physician, since the estrogen in HRT is linked with an increase in heart attack and stroke risk.
Still, it’s possible to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and high levels of LDL cholesterol even when you’re doing all the right things. This means it’s also important to see your doctor regularly to check for these powerful risk factors for heart disease, since they typically cause no symptoms.
Even if you don’t successfully dodge these problems, you can still rein in your risk by keeping your numbers under control with diet, exercise, and the appropriate medications.
“Even if you have bad genes, the risk for heart disease is still modifiable,” Feldman stresses. “And it’s modifiable with conventional measures such as healthy eating, exercising, and managing your risk factors.”
For more information and e-tools to help assess and manage your risk, visit heartandstroke.ca.