Women and Heart Disease

Living With Heart Disease


Women are natural caretakers—whether it’s as a mother, sister, daughter and/or partner. More often than not, women are so busy caring for everyone else that their own health and well-being slips to the bottom of the list. Sound familiar? If so, for your loved ones and your heart, commit to making you and your health a priority.

Take time to understand how likely you are to develop heart disease and what you can do to prevent it. This way, you’ll be taking steps to be here and healthy for the people who mean the most to you.

“My advice to women is to do one good thing for your heart every day. Protect your heart by making healthy choices that are right for you.”—Martha Gulati, MD, FACC
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Tips for Staying Healthy

1. Take stock of your heart disease risk at every age. We change as we age, and so do our risk factors! If you are approaching menopause or have had a pregnancy with a preterm delivery, gestational hypertension/preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, ask how these events can affect your chance of having heart problems in the future.

2. Schedule routine health checkups and mark the dates on your calendar. Important numbers are measured at these visits: your weight, body mass index (BMI), waist measurement, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

3. Know and keep tabs on your numbers. Keep a notepad or use an app to track your numbers over time. For example, do you know your blood sugar, blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and weight? Are they under control or within a healthy range?

4. Start or step up your exercise program. Aim to get 30-45 minutes of exercise most days. Pick activities that get your heart pumping and that you enjoy. Walking, riding a bike, swimming—even gardening or heavy housework—count. Talk with your health care provider about what exercise routine is best for you.

5. Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your provider what that number is, and pay attention to the fat around your waist. Women with more of an apple-shaped body and too much fat around their waists appear to be at higher risk of serious heart issues. Know your BMI and waist circumference.  

6. Eat a healthy diet. Make healthy food choices every day. Learn which foods have hidden fats, empty calories and added sugars. The Mediterranean and the DASH diets are two examples of heart-healthy plans.

7. Quit or don’t start smoking. Ask your doctor for information to help you quit smoking.  

8. Reduce your stress. Too much stress can affect your health, so it’s important to figure out ways to cope with stress. Find time for yourself and to connect with what’s important to you. Listen to your favorite music, meditate, try out a fun exercise or yoga class, or go for a walk with a friend. If you feel overwhelmed at work or home, ask for help and only say “yes” to what you can handle.

9. Get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep is bad for the heart—not to mention for your overall health. Not getting enough quality shuteye is linked to a higher risk of high blood pressure. A good rule of thumb for adults is to clock at least seven hours of restful sleep a night. Talk with your health care provider about sleep habits, especially if you often wake up feeling unrested.

10. Limit alcohol to one drink a day or less. Too much alcohol can lead to weight gain, raise your blood pressure and disrupt how your heart beats.

11. Listen to your body. If you have a feeling that something is wrong, get it checked out. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical, and may even save your life!

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Published: February 2017
Editorial Team Lead: Gina Lundberg, MD, FACC
Medical Reviewer: Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC

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Women often experience heart attack symptoms differently than men. It's important for a woman to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and react quickly by calling 911.

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Women and Heart Disease

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