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Heart Attacks Hit Middle-Aged Women

Heart attack risk is rising in U.S. women -- decades earlier than you might expect. Find out why, and what women can do about it.

Delete Your Heart Attack Hazards

Here are five things women can do to avoid a middle-aged heart attack:

1. Recognize your risk. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among U.S. women. Awareness about heart disease in women is rising, but still has a ways to go. "As with any educational process, we have to keep reminding women -- and doctors -- over and over," Redberg says.

2. Know your numbers. "You should know your BMI, waist circumference, blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, as well as your family history," Michos says. "And know the target levels for women your age."

Michos says she's had patients who were shocked to learn their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers were off target, often because they had no idea what their optimal levels were. "They just assumed they were not at risk. You need to know the target. If you’re not on target level, make an appointment with your doctor and go over each risk factor," Michos says.

3. Consider getting an ECG. Daviglus suggests that people with one or more heart disease risk factors -- such as family history of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, abnormal cholesterol readings, tobacco use, excess weight, poor diet, and physical inactivity -- get an electrocardiogram (ECG) in their 40s. "If it’s normal, you don't have to have one every year. But that gives doctors a baseline to compare to in the future -- much like your first mammogram," she says.

4. Upgrade your health habits. You've heard it before: Eat right, exercise regularly, and don't smoke. Some tips:

  • Start small. Small changes are easier than big ones, Redberg says. She suggests adding a piece of fruit or an extra serving of vegetables each day. Watch portion size, especially if you eat out a lot. And read food labels to check on calories, fat, and sodium.
  • Walk. "Take 10,000 steps a day, park a little farther away, take the stairs instead of the elevators," Michos suggests. "Walking just 30 minutes a day will lower your heart attacks risk 50% compared with no walking. That's huge," she says.
  • If you smoke, quit. Don't hesitate to seek help, and keep trying as many times as it takes.

5. Take a holistic approach. Not all causes of heart disease have been defined. Stress, poor sleep, and periodontal disease, for example, are increasingly being recognized as contributors.  Attending to your health in general is a good bet all around.

Reviewed on January 27, 2010

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