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Cardiovascular disease: not just a man’s disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) does not just affect men, and in some instances its effects can be worse in women. It is the number one killer of women, with over two million premature deaths each year. The good news is that most cardiovascular diseases are preventable.
Protect your heart
Most of the major cardiovascular disease risks factors can be controlled. Here are a few tips on how to control those risks and protect your heart:
30 minutes of activity a day can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. Try to make exercise a regular part of your life: use the stairs instead of the lift, get off the bus a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way.
Your risk of coronary heart disease will be halved within a year and will return to a normal level over time. Avoid smoke-filled environments: exposure to second-hand smoke significantly increases risk of heart attack.
Keeping a healthy weight and limiting your salt intake will help to control your blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Have your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels checked regularly. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major factor for approximately half of all heart disease and stroke. High blood cholesterol and glucose levels can also place you at greater risk.
Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, a variety of whole grain products, lean meat, fish, peas, beans, lentils, and foods low in saturated fats. Be wary of processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt. Drink lots of water!
Heart attacks often manifest themselves differently in women than in men. Learn the warning signs: the sooner assistance is sought, the greater the chances of a full recovery.
Take the medication that your doctor has prescribed.
Keep track of your achievements and progress: feel proud about what you do for your own, and your family’s health.
Risk factors for CVD are largely the same for men and women, although certain women expose themselves to more risk factors than their male counterparts. While age and family history play a role, the majority of CVD deaths depends on modifiable risk factors. The good news is that you can easily modify some major risk factors to lower your risk of heart disease or stroke.
Women smokers have a higher risk of heart attack than male smokers. Women who smoke only 2-5 cigarettes a day double their risk of heart attack (while men who smoke 6-9 cigarettes a day double their risk). Constant exposure to secondhand smoke also increases your risk of dying from heart disease by 15% in women. Women smokers who use birth control pills have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke than non-smoking women who use them.
If you have too much fat, especially around your waist, you are at higher risk of heart disease and stroke. A women who is obese, even if physically active, increases her risk of coronary disease by 2.48 times compared to a women with normal weight. If you are an obese smoker you can expect to live 14 fewer years than non smokers of normal weight. The Body Mass Index and the circumference of the waist is a good way to determine if you are overweight.
Women who engage in physical activity for less than an hour per week have nearly 50% more risk of developing coronary heart disease compared to women who do more than three hours of physical activity per week.
Hypertension is largely preventable. Blood pressure increases with age, affecting two-thirds of women over 75. Women have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if they are obese, pregnant, have a family history of high blood pressure, use birth control pills or have reached menopause.
What you eat affects your heart health. Not enough fresh fruit and vegetables and too much sugar, salt and bad fat in your diet all increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
High Blood Cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and also increases the risk of stroke. Women’s cholesterol is generally higher than men’s from age 45 on. High level of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) raise the risk of heart disease and heart attack, while high level of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) lower the risk of heart disease.
Diabetes affects more than 70 million women in the world. Women with diabetes are at much greater risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
If experiencing any of these signs, call an ambulance or a health professional immediately: Minutes matter, and fast action can save lives.
Under-recognition and under-treatment
Cardiovascular disease, contrary to common belief, is not just a man’s disease as it affects women and men equally. However, the symptoms, progress and outcome of heart disease can be different in women and this leads to women being often under-diagnosed and under-treated.
Women themselves tend to under-estimate the risk of dying or becoming seriously unwell due to heart disease. Young women still feel more threatened by cancer than they do by CVD, despite being statistically more likely to die of heart disease.
Educating women greatly increases their willingness and ability to take heart-protective action, which is why the World Heart Federation, together with its members, runs campaigns and activities to inform women worldwide that heart disease and stroke is their number one killer and that they can take appropriate action to prevent them.
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Policy and Reports
CVD Advocacy Toolkit - The Road to 2018