Protect Your Heart Health

by Dr. A. Peraino, Internist & AMEC Member

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and is responsible for more deaths than all forms of cancer combined? Indeed, the numbers are alarming and rising:

  • 90 percent of women have at least one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women compared to men and are often misunderstood or attributed to other causes, contributing to misdiagnosis and lack of treatment. Cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death of new moms – and accounts for over a third of maternal deaths. Health issues during pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure can increase a woman’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life too.

It is critical for women to take an active role in cardiovascular disease prevention. Studies show healthy choices decrease the number of women who die from heart disease each day. You may wonder: how do I reduce my risk of heart disease? The good news is heart disease can be treated and prevented with the right education and care.

My first recommendation as a physician is to know your personal cardiac risk to design customized prevention measures.

  1. Let’s review first what heart disease is: heart disease affects the blood vessels of the heart and cardiovascular system. Most problems result from atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in the walls of the arteries.  The build up narrows the arteries and makes it harder for the blood to flow through the arteries to the respective organs.  A stroke or heart attack can occur if the arteries are completely blocked and the blood flow is stopped. 
  1. Some risk factors are modifiable and others are not. The risk factors that you can’t control are:
    • Gender
    • Race
    • Personal history of heart disease – history of heart attack and stroke
    • Age over 45 in men and age over 55 in women
    • Family history of premature heart disease: 1st degree male relative <50 years or female relative <60 years
    • Post-menopausal status
  1. The risk factors that you can control with treatment or lifestyle changes are:
    • High blood pressure
    • High blood cholesterol
    • Diabetes Mellitus and elevated blood sugar
    • Excess weight or obesity
    • Lack of regular physical activity
    • Smoking or vaping 
  1. See your doctor to measure these 5 key numbers:
    • Total Cholesterol – talk to your doctor about target goals given your risk factors.
    • HDL (good) Cholesterol – goal levels are > 40, and optimal levels are >59.
    • Blood pressure – Ideal levels are <120/80.
    • Blood Sugar – Ideal levels are <100.
    • Body Mass Index – ideal levels are >18.5 and <25. 

The first step towards better heart health is education. Getting advice from a trusted physician and health experts is priceless. Prevention is a long-term strategy which requires daily lifestyle changes. Exercise and diet fads are ineffective and can be detrimental to your health. Start with your morning with a new vitamin-rich ritual. Supporting your heart health requires consistency and becomes a life-long practice that enriches your overall wellness.