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Heart Health Awareness: Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease is well known as the leading cause of death for Kiwi men, but did you know it holds the exact same position for women? It is often thought of as a male-centric health problem, but the fact is that 60 women a week die from heart disease in New Zealand, making it just as much a danger for them as it is for men.

Women are commonly at risk of conditions such as microvascular angina (cardiac syndrome X), coronary microvascular disease (small vessel disease), spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), and coronary artery spasms (prinzmetal angina).

The Ministry of Health’s statistics outline that over 3,000 women die annually in New Zealand due to heart conditions, and that a much greater number of women – around 65,000 – live with heart disease day-to-day.

This February, we’re taking part of Heart Health Awareness Month and taking action by spreading awareness about women and heart disease. Hearts may be skipping beats for love month, but don’t let your loved one’s heart go to heart disease. Read on to help lower their risk – and yours – for developing heart disease.

When should I get a heart check?

As a woman, the age from which you should check your heart can vary depending on ethnicity and presence of other conditions.

  1. Women without known risk factors should get their heart checked from around 55.
  2. Women who have been diagnosed with significant heart disease risks should get their heart checked from 45 years of age.
  3. Māori, Pacific or South Asian women should get a check from 40 years of age.
  4. Women with type 2 diabetes get their heart checked annually as part of the diabetic review and don’t need to worry about separate heart checks.
  5. Women with severe mental illnesses can get their heart checked from 25 years of age onwards.

What puts me at risk of heart disease?

Both men and women share the same essential risk factors for heart disease: smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Family history of heart disease is also a contributing factor.

It is, however, relatively unknown that some of these factors are more dangerous for women than for men. For example, smoking has an increased chance of developing heart conditions in women, as they typically metabolize nicotine much faster. Diabetes also poses a greater risk to women than men when it comes to heart disease, and hereditary factors are often a more critical signal for women than men.

A factor not shared between men and women is menopause. Male risk of heart disease tends to be higher early in life, while female heart disease risks become more pronounced later in life, due to menopause.

How does menopause affect my risk of heart disease?

On average, women begin to experience menopause around their early 50s – this is when the ovaries stop producing eggs, and the two main female reproductive hormones (oestrogen and progesterone).

Beyond the obvious changes to the reproductive system, menopause also increases overall blood cholesterol, blood pressure, body fat and insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of diabetes. Menopause has also been linked to changes in metabolism and body fat distribution. All of these factors can alter your risk of heart disease.

In order to counteract these natural side-effects of ageing, some women pursue Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in the first 10 years of menopause. It could also be worth looking into heart health supplements, as there are a number of natural products that support normal blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels, such as O2B Co-Q10 and O2B Red Yeast Rice.

How does pregnancy affect your heart?

Your heart has to work much harder than usual during pregnancy as it has a much greater volume of blood to pump around your body. In most women, the blood volume will increase by 30 – 50%.

Pregnancy Safety
If you have a pre-existing heart condition, your doctor will be able to advise you on whether it is a good idea to get pregnant. By and large, this needs to be examined on a case by case basis, as it depends on specific conditions and any medications you may be prescribed.

Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy. Usually, there are no symptoms at all – in order to find it, every pregnancy is screened. Gestational diabetes puts you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life. This translates into an overall increase in chance of heart conditions or strokes.

Pre-eclampsia
A small percentage of pregnancies – about 5% – will develop pre-eclampsia. This is usually recognised by sudden spikes in blood pressure, swelling of legs and hands, and headaches or blurry vision. Pre-eclampsia doesn’t persist after pregnancy but does increase risk of heart conditions long term, and some evidence suggests this increase could be up to double.

What Can I Do?

Despite the prevalence of heart disease, there’s plenty of options for mitigating it. If you’re worried about heart disease, speak with your doctor about a check-up. There are also many places to buy supplements online which can support your cardiovascular health. Take a look at the O2B Healthy range of cardiovascular supplements today, and you could find the best health supplement for you.

Recommended supplements to support your heart health:

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