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Women and Heart Disease: Know Your Risk

heart disease in women

Would you be surprised to learn heart disease kills over twice as many women each year than does breast cancer? Around 65 women will die from a heart attack every single day, with an average of four women per hour being admitted to hospital with a heart attack.

Yet heart disease is often thought of as mainly affecting men, meaning you might not be aware of your risk, nor the warning signs of a heart attack – these are different in women than men.

Read on to improve your heart health awareness and help close the heart gender gap.

Heart Disease Defined

Heart disease refers to a range of conditions affecting the heart. It’s often called cardiovascular disease, although this includes problems with circulation and blood vessels like arterial plaques, high blood pressure and stiffening of arteries.

You probably won’t be physically aware of these changes happening in your heart and blood vessels, particularly in the early stages.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Symptoms of heart disease in women are often milder than those in men so can go unnoticed, and they may occur at a later stage in the disease. If heart disease goes undetected, damage caused can be more extensive, leading to a heart attack. Being aware of the signs of a heart attack can mean you’re likely to receive medical care more quickly.

Women are less likely to experience chest pain than are men and more likely to feel sudden-onset pain similar to indigestion. It may feel like pressure or tightness in your chest.

Other symptoms include pain in your arms, jaw, neck or back, breathlessness, nausea, cold sweats, light-headedness, loss of appetite, stomach pain and lethargy. You might suddenly start coughing or feel like you’re having a panic attack.

Heart Disease and Female Hormones

A woman’s risk of heart disease increases after menopause. This may be due to falling levels of female hormones because both oestrogen and progesterone are thought to have heart-protective functions. Women experience protection from heart issues during their reproductive years because their hormone levels are generally higher than after menopause.

On the other hand, some oral contraceptives containing synthetic progesterone can increase the risk of heart disease in women who smoke, are obese, drink alcohol or don’t exercise. Women with Type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of a heart attack than men with the condition.

The Gut/Heart Connection

Your gut and your heart are closely connected, with the key to good heart health lying in your gut. Particularly important for heart health is the population of bacteria living in your gut, your microbiome.

These bacteria release messenger substances, either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory depending on the type of bacteria producing them. If your gut lining is more permeable than it should be, these substances can easily travel around your body in your circulatory system. Chronic, uncontrolled inflammation is a huge factor in heart disease.

Friendly strains of bacteria produce substances supporting heart and artery health. Other, undesirable types of bacteria release inflammatory substances capable of damaging blood vessels and even encouraging arterial plaque formation.

Research has found the fewer variety of species of bacteria living in the gut, the more likely arteries were to harden and stiffen with age. Imbalances in gut bacteria also seem to predispose towards obesity, a risk factor for heart disease.

Reducing Your Risk

  • The way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. A diet high in fibre encourages friendly bacteria to thrive. Eat a wide variety of plant foods containing natural fibre, also rich in protective antioxidants.
  • Heart-healthy nutrients include magnesium, essential for the muscular function of your heart and blood vessel walls, Omega 3 fatty acids to control inflammation and regulate blood fats, and vitamin C to protect blood vessels.
  • Your heart needs exercise like any other muscle. People who sit for long periods are at a greater risk of suffering heart disease. Don’t sit at your computer or in front of the TV for more than half an hour at a time without a short break.
  • Manage your stress. Stress hormones increase blood pressure and make your blood more liable to clot, putting extra strain on your heart.
  • If you smoke, make a heartfelt promise to stop. Chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the heart and blood vessels, raise blood pressure and encourage uncontrolled inflammation.
  • Regularly drinking alcohol can increase your blood pressure and damage your heart muscle. Keep your tipple as an occasional treat.

Natural Support for Your Heart

Discover your personal heart health with functional testing. Examining your individual microbiome can reveal whether the messenger molecules your bacteria are sending out are heart-healthy or heart-harming. Tests can reveal your levels of heart-supporting nutrients, inflammation and cholesterol balance. Contact me today and start your journey to a healthier heart.  

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