Heart disease is a women’s issue

| 10/05/2012

(CNS): There are currently 42 million women in America suffering from cardio vascular disease and over 422,000 women dying annually in the States because of CVD. And while one in 30 women die of breast cancer in the States, one in four die of heart disease. As a result of the proliferation of the disease, speaker Kathy Tryon said, at the Nurses Conference held this week, that new American Heart Association guidelines for preventing CVD had been issued last year. These outlined that women should be exercising moderately for two and a half hours each week or vigorously for 75 minutes a week, be actively helped to give up smoking and encouraged to follow a DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in salt.

Speaking specifically on the subject CVD in women at the conference, held at the Marriott Beach Resort, Tryon, who is a clinical educator with Baptist Health in South Florida, said that historically CVD had been perceived as a man’s disease and that women’s symptoms – which differed from that of men and included fatigue and vertigo – had been treated as psychosomatic. Women had also been underrepresented in clinical studies on CVD which had put women at a disadvantage when it came to understanding how it affected women in particular. 

While one in five women in America had some kind of CVD if they were between the ages of 45 and 65, this figure rose to one in three within the over 65 age range and one in five women were having mid-life strokes, with 25 per cent of those women dying as a result.

“Stroke risk increases 50 per cent in those people who drink diet sodas,” she warned.

In addition, while CVD was the leading cause of death among women in the US, strokes were the third most common cause of death, she explained.

Tryon said that CVD was preventable and that risk factors ought to be modified at a younger age than was currently taking place, even at inception, as there were steps a pregnant woman could take to lower their child’s risk of developing CVD.

Listing the non-modifiable risk factors associated with developing CVD, Tryon said there was nothing you could do about aging. Females, she said, had a 15 year grace period from the age of 60 over men, but once they reached the age of 75 their risk of a heart attack was just as great as men. Ethnicity was another unavoidable risk factor, with black women more at risk than white, and family history was another unchangeable factor as to whether a person would go on to develop the disease.

Smoking was one such risk factor which could be modified, however, she stated. “It contributes to so much and is compounded by birth control pills’ she said. “You are just setting yourself up for disaster.”

She went on to say that heart studies had shown that smoking as little as one to four cigarettes a day increased your risk of heart disease and every cigarette took seven minutes off your life.

The problem of obesity, which led to diabetes, hypertension and other risk factors, was also becoming increasingly worse, Tryon explained, with the World Health Organisation reporting that 1 billion people in the world were currently overweight and 300 million obese. That figure was set to rise to 42 per cent of the world’s population becoming overweight or obese if trends continued, she said.  Keeping your Body Mass Index within the normal range was also important, she said.

As well as widely known risk factors for CVD which include high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol and high blood sugar, other risk factors that Tryon discussed included sleep deprivation.

“A study just out found that women who work shifts of 12 hours were more at risk of a stroke or CVD,” she said.  

According to the AHA classification of heart disease in women, exercising regularly meant women were less likely to develop CVD. The AHA recommends women should be exercising moderately for two and ahalf hours each week or vigorously for 75 minutes a week, or a mix of both, Tryon explained. Following a DASH diet, which means Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension also put women in a lower risk category for developing CVD, included consuming less salt, eating more fruit and vegetables and drinking alcohol in moderation.

Risk factors for CVD unique to women included taking oral contraceptives, suffering from poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, suffering preeclampsia or gestational diabetes or bleeding during the third trimester during pregnancy, she explained.   

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