February is American Heart Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is supporting this important initiative by increasing
awareness among women — older women in particular — that CVD
is their top health threat and by sharing information about uniquely-female-CVD
symptoms, and steps women can take to reduce their CVD risks.
For decades, cardiovascular disease (CVD) was considered a “he”
not a “she” medical problem. We now know better. In fact,
we now know that:
- More women than men have CVD.
- The CVD death rate is higher for women than men.
- In the United States, more than 6.5 million women die annually from CVD
and over 53,000 women have fatal heart attacks yearly.
CVD causes roughly one death every minute and 16 seconds among females.
That’s more than the number of female deaths from cancer, chronic
lower respiratory disease, and diabetes combined.
CVD is a general term used to describe a range of disorders that affect
the heart including: coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems, or
arrhythmias; heart infections; congenital heart defects; narrowing of
the blood vessels; heart attack; stroke; high blood pressure; angina (chest
pain); and rheumatic heart disease.
Age and CVD
As you age, so do your blood vessels. They become less flexible, making
it harder for blood to flow freely through them. Fatty deposits, called
plaques, also collect along artery walls and slow the blood flow from
While menopause is a normal stage in a woman's life, it can be the
catalyst for changes that increase the risk of heart disease. For example,
estrogen levels decrease during menopause, which may play a part in the
higher risks of heart disease that occurs after menopause.
While chest pain is the top heart-attack symptom among both men and women,
females often experience more subtle symptoms, which often results in
a delay in seeking care. For up to a year prior to having a heart attack,
women may experience any of these symptoms:
- neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort;
- pain in one or both arms;
- lightheadedness or dizziness.
Reduce Your Risks
No woman wants to be one of the more than 6.5 million women who die annually
of CVD. If you haven’t taken these steps already, make February
the month you proactively reduce your CVD risks by:
Kicking the habit-Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke as few as one
to four cigarettes per day. Even if you don't smoke, regular exposure
to second-hand smoke can increase your risk.
Increasing your activity-Strive to fit in at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise,
such as brisk walking. Other ways to up your activity level include: opting
for stairs over elevators; doing yard work; walking rather than driving
Following a heart-healthy diet-Components of a heart-healthy diet are: whole grains; a variety of fruits
and vegetables; nuts (about five 5 ounces weekly); poly- and monounsaturated
fats, fatty fish (such as wild salmon); and limited intake of trans fats.
Reducing stress/treating depression and anxiety -Your risk for CVD increases if you're depressed or feel chronically
stressed. Stress-reducing strategies include exercise, adequate sleep,
and meditation. Seeing a therapist often is an effective means of managing
or eliminating depression and anxiety.