Bless Your Heart: Women and heart health

Ladies, you may be surprised to learn that heart disease is overwhelmingly the biggest threat to your health.

As Gwinnett Medical Group cardiologist Mary Ellen Bergh, MD, points out, “heart disease remains a challenging health issue for women. In the last twenty years, the number of heart attacks in 35-50 year-olds has increased in women but not in men.”

Despite multiple campaigns by advocacy groups, there is evidence that awareness of risk factors in women continues to lag behind that of men.

A recent study found that clinicians were more likely to encourage weight loss among women rather than discuss particular risk factors for coronary artery disease. Additionally, it was determined that more than 75 percent of women do not discuss heart disease, perhaps because of the stigma surrounding body weight.

While the abundance of information regarding women and heart disease may make you feel overwhelmed, remember: it is vital that we have poignant conversations with our health care providers regarding our risk for heart disease.

Dr. Bergh emphasizes these risk factors as some of the most important to know:

  • Smoking: Simply put, this is devastating to the cardiovascular system over time, promoting the deposition of plaque and plaque instability. Unstable plaque often breaks free from the coronary arteries resulting in impaired blood flow and heart attacks. A heart attack patient who continues to smoke is 50 times more likely to have another event than a patient who stops.
  • Family History: Learn more about your immediate and distant family history. Focus on whether they have had heart disease or stroke and the age at which it occurred.
  • High Cholesterol: We are learning more and more about patterns of elevation.  Sit down with your clinician and see what your complete cholesterol profile means for you.
  • High Blood Pressure: This is very problematic to the cardiovascular system. The good news, though: you can fool Mother Nature. As long as we control our blood pressure, whether with medication or lifestyle changes, we should be free of the adverse consequences of uncontrolled hypertension.

Women have historically put their welfare on the back burner while caring for family and household needs. It is pivotal that ladies remember to be their own health care advocates.

Ultimately, the most powerful intervention we can each make to improve our heart health is to gather information and implement change. So the next time you’re in the doctor’s office, commit to being your own best advocate and engage in a specific conversation about your risk for heart disease.

Getting to the Heart of the Problem:

Heart health can be hard to navigate on your own. Be proactive about caring for your heart; start by finding the right primary care physician. Begin making lifestyle changes as well; even one lifestyle change for your heart reduces your risk for heart disease. In the event that you or a loved one is in need of a heart specialist, Gwinnett Medical Center can provide compassionate, expert care. 


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