Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Women
Risk factors are habits, traits, or conditions that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. However, research shows that modifying your risk factors can prolong and improve the quality of your life. The key is to know your risk factors and to modify them.
Risk Factors You CANNOT Control (Non-Modifiable)
- Age: As women age, the risk of heart disease and stroke increases.
- Family History of Cardiovascular Disease: If your brother or father had a heart attack before the age of 55 or if your mother or sister had a heart attack before the age of 65, you are more likely to develop heart disease. If a parent, grandparent, sister, or brother has had a stroke, you are at greater risk of a stroke. Such a family history should prompt you to be screened for heart disease and the risk factors that contribute to the development of heart and vascular diseases.
- Personal History of Cardiovascular Disease: If you have suffered a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), your risk of stroke is increased over those that have no history. If you have a history of heart attack, you are at higher risk of having a stroke.
- Race: African-American women are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke than white women.
Risk Factors You CAN Control (Modifiable):
- Depression: Cardiovascular patients are at an increased risk of developing symptoms of depression, which can occur following a cardiovascular diagnosis, event, or surgery.
- Diabetes: Women with diabetes are 2 to 6 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Women with diabetes are also more likely to have other modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, in addition to diabetes.
- Heart Healthy Nutrition: Reduce your risk of heart and vascular disease by making healthy food choices.
- High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure increases the risk for developing heart disease and strokes in women. It is important to note that high blood pressure can be silent, and the only way you will know your blood pressure is elevated is if your blood pressure is checked. Your blood pressure is more likely to be elevated if you: (1) have a family history of hypertension, (2) smoke, (3) are obese, (4) are pregnant, (5) have reached menopause, or (6) are African-American.
- High Cholesterol: Cholesterol should be screened at the age of 20. As described above, the good cholesterol (HDL) may be more important in women in terms of protecting a woman from cardiovascular disease. You should discuss your cholesterol levels with your doctor annually to ensure you are achieving your target cholesterol levels.
- Overweight/Obesity: Being overweight or obese, or having a waist circumference greater than 35 inches, places you at a higher risk of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and ultimately, a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Inactivity/Poor Fitness: Those who are physically inactive are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared with someone who is physically active. An inactive person is more likely to become overweight, develop diabetes, have high blood pressure, raise their "bad" cholesterol, and lower their "good" cholesterol. The higher your level of physical fitness, the lower your risk of dying from cardiovascular-related deaths and deaths from any cause.
- Smoking: Smoking cigarettes and even secondhand smoke is a major cause of cardiovascular disease in women. Women on the birth control pill who also smoke are at a high risk for a heart attack and stroke.
- Stress Reduction: To improve the quality of your life, to enhance your emotional functioning, and to protect your cardiac and vascular health, try to reduce the amount of avoidable stress in your life and practice healthy ways to cope with the inevitable.
Center for Women's Cardiovascular Health
1-866-662-8467 (toll free)