Like many women, you might consider breast cancer your top health concern. But you may not realize there’s an even bigger risk to your health: heart disease.
It’s the leading killer of both men and women, and it’s surprisingly common. Heart disease strikes nearly 1 in 3 women during their lifetime, compared to 1 in 8 women who will get breast cancer.
Heart disease risk factors
Some things can make you more likely than the average person to get heart disease, which sets the stage for heart attacks. For instance, your risk rises if you:
- Are 55 or older or postmenopausal. One reason is the decline in the hormone estrogen (which offers women some heart protection) that occurs after menopause.
- Have high blood pressure. This damages the heart’s arteries. In addition, women are more prone to heart disease if they had high blood pressure during pregnancy, a condition known as pre-eclampsia.
- Have high cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) in the blood can clog arteries in the heart, triggering a heart attack.
- Have diabetes. Or if you have its precursor, prediabetes.
- Have a family history of early heart disease. If your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55 or your mother or sister had one before age 65, your risk rises too.
- Are overweight or obese. Extra weight is hard on the heart.
- Make unhealthy lifestyle choices. These include eating unhealthy foods, smoking or not exercising.
4 ways to protect your heart
A good first step is to see your primary care provider. Ask about your personal risk for heart disease and what you can do to lower it.
Meanwhile, you can:
- Carve out time for some exercise. Walking is easy, and every step helps.
- Eat more heart-healthy foods. Focus more on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose foods low in salt and sodium, added sugars, and saturated or trans fats.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Eating sensible food portions and exercising can help.
- If you smoke, try your best to quit. Your heart will thank you!
Sources: American College of Cardiology; American Heart Association; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; U.S. Food and Drug Administration