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Thinking about women and heart disease

Guest Columnist

Look around you today. Have you seen women wearing red or sporting a “red dress” pin on their lapel?

That is because today is National Wear Red Day, sponsored by Go Red for Women and the American Heart Association.

Go Red for Women was created by the American Heart Association in 2004 to raise awareness of heart disease in women and give women the tools to assess their individual risk and live a more heart healthy life.

Many people think that cardiovascular disease is a disease of men but it is the number one cause of death in women in the US, claiming nearly 500,000 lives each year.

In fact, more women die of heart disease than men in the US.

Major risk factors for cardiovascular disease include hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and abnormal lipid levels which include elevated total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.

There are numbers that all women should know so that they can assess their risk. The optimal level for blood pressure is less than 120/80.

Higher levels suggest pre-hypertension or hypertension that needs lifestyle changes or medication treatment.

The optimal level for total cholesterol is less than 200, for LDL cholesterol is less than 100, for triglycerides is less than 150, and for HDL cholesterol is greater than 50.

Depending on your overall risk factors, your medical provider may recommend lifestyle changes alone or in combination with medications.

The best assessment of overall glucose metabolism and diabetes mellitus is a blood test called hemoglobin A1c. The optimal level for hemoglobin A1c is less than 7 percent.

There are lifestyle interventions that we should all practice to lower our risk of cardiovascular disease. Maintaining an ideal body weight is very important.

The body mass index (BMI) is a calculation of your weight relative to your height. You can calculate your BMI on the Go Red for Women website.

The ideal BMI is less than 25 kg/m2. The ideal waist circumference is less than 35 inches for women. Women should do 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.

They should also engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week.

Diets should be rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain/high fiber foods, as well as oily fish which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week.

Saturated fat, cholesterol, alcohol, sodium, and sugar should be limited and trans-fatty acids avoided.

Cigarette smoking as well as exposure to environmental tobacco smoke should be avoided. The use of illegal substances such as cocaine and methamphetamines can also lead to cardiovascular events and should be avoided.

There are other things that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A family history of premature cardiovascular disease in first degree relatives ( age less than 55 years in a male relative and less than 65 years in a female relative)increases the risk.

Women who have a history of pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or polycystic ovarian syndrome also have a higher risk of heart disease.

The metabolic syndrome also increases the risk of heart and vascular disease as well as diabetes mellitus.

If you have 3 of the following, you have metabolic syndrome: waist greater than 35 inches, triglycerides greater than 150, HDL cholesterol less than 50, blood pressure greater than 130/85, or fasting glucose greater than 100.

Two websites that I would recommend are www. goredforwomen.org and www.sangerheart.org (patient resources).

They are good resources for information and tools to help you assess your own cardiovascular risk and get heart healthy.

Dr. Karen G. Cloninger work with the Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute at Carolinas Medical Center-Lincolnton.

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