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5 heart-healthy steps for women

A middle-aged woman on a paddleboard in a lake.

Heart disease is a concern for all women. Learn your risks and how to control them.

As a woman, you have plenty to think about when it comes to protecting your health. Breast cancer screening comes to mind. You’re almost certainly aware of the need to get screened on time. But what about heart disease? Should you be doing more to protect against that?

Heart disease is often thought of as a man’s disease, even though it’s the No. 1 killer of women too. One reason may be that the heart problems we see portrayed in movies and on TV often happen to men rather than women.

Now that you know that heart disease is a woman’s biggest health threat, it’s time to take action.

Prioritize your heart health

Fortunately, there’s much you can do to protect your heart, starting with a visit to your doctor. You and your doctor can map out a strategy for healthy changes. That’s key because many heart disease risk factors are driven by lifestyle choices.

Eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are all things that can help lower the risk for heart disease in both men and women.

But some steps that reduce the risk for heart disease have extra significance for women. To learn about them, check out these five tips with information from the American Heart Association (AHA) and other medical experts:

1. If you smoke, quit. Smoking is a major cause of heart disease in women, and even secondhand smoke is harmful. Smoking is especially dangerous to your heart if you use birth control pills.

2. Control your cholesterol. It’s good to have high levels of HDL, or the good cholesterol. But high levels of LDL, or the bad cholesterol, lead to cholesterol buildup in the arteries.

High triglycerides, another kind of blood fat, may be a greater risk for women than men. Women age 20 or older should have their cholesterol and triglycerides checked with a fasting lipoprotein profile every four to six years.

3. Know your blood pressure. Women account for nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure. Their risk increases after menopause, if they are 20 pounds or more overweight or have a family history of high blood pressure. The disease is a major factor in triggering heart attacks. Your doctor can check your blood pressure at every checkup.

4. Get tested for diabetes. People with diabetes have a much higher risk of heart disease than those without diabetes. And the risk may be even higher for women, especially postmenopausal women, than men. You are likelier to develop diabetes as you get older. So starting at age 45, have your blood sugar levels checked every three years.

5. Don't look to hormonal therapy for help. For postmenopausal women, the AHA does not recommend hormone therapy to reduce risk of heart disease or stroke. For women just beginning menopause, there may be some benefits. Talk to your healthcare provider about what's best for you.

The time is right

It's best to start early to lower your heart disease risks. But even if you already have heart disease, you can still reduce the risk for further damage to your heart—including a potential heart attack.

So take a look at your risk factors, talk to your doctor and make a plan. Every healthy change you make will put you further on your way to better heart health.

Reviewed 5/7/2023

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