Each year, heart disease, kills over 400,000 American women, which is "approximately the same number of women as the next three causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer," according to the American Heart Association.
SIMED Physician, Dr. Timothy Elder, suggests women should know their risk, so they can be proactive about preventing or slowing the progression of heart disease.
"It is very common to have heart disease," says Dr. Elder. "A lot of times, women hear about breast cancer and not about heart disease. I think it's important to understand that it is a big issue."
Dr. Elder says it’s critical for women to know their risk factors, since many of them do not have obvious symptoms. The most typical risk factors are being overweight, having a family history of cardiovascular disease, having diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or use of tobacco.
Why focus so much on risk and prevention?
Because heart disease is not curable.
"I always compare it to a car being in a car accident. You can get the fender and everything fixed, and it looks good, but the car still has some damage to it. You can definitely live with heart disease – you just have to do the right things to modify your risks. There are things that we can do to decrease the severity of it, but it never goes away."
While you can decrease plaque build up in arteries with certain medications, the better option is protecting yourself, starting at an early age.
Dr. Elder recommends that younger women get into a regular exercise routine, understand what their weight should be for their height, and aim to maintain that. He also recommends being more aware of what you eat.
"A lot of American's diet can be improved upon. Understanding chloric intake, and paying more attention to nutrition and diet [is important] because it lays the foundation for the rest of your life," says Dr. Elder.
In addition to those preventative measures, Dr. Elder wants middle aged women to take other steps towards living a heart-healthy life.
"As you're getting older, diet and exercise are still very important, but also checking in with your doctor and doing the basic labs and preventative wellness visits, monitor how effective your efforts have been and to discuss things you could do to improve," says Dr. Elder.
Maintaining a healthy diet, a regular exercise routine, low cholesterol, managing chronic comorbidities– such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and avoidance of tobacco are key.
"It's all about risk factor modification," says Dr. Elder. "The risk factors are pretty common things, and they're easily treatable. The earlier one begins, the easier to control those comorbidities."
If you're concerned about your heart health the first step is to visit your doctor and voice your concerns.
"I always recommend being very straight forward and honest with your doctor, ask 'what is my risk for heart disease?' and 'What can I do to decrease my risk? I think those are good starting points for patients to talk about with their doctor," says Dr. Elder.
If you haven't discussed heart disease and your risks with your physician recently, do not wait. Take an active role in your health and make an appointment today.