Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Heart Health Center

Font Size

Your Healthy Heart: A Woman’s Guide

Follow these 12 steps to preventing heart disease -- the number 1 threat to a woman's health.
By
WebMD Feature

If you're like most women, a healthy heart is something you take for granted. And when you hear the words "heart attack," you're more likely to think of your spouse than yourself.

But studies show that heart disease is the number 1 threat to a woman's health -- causing nearly 1 in 3 deaths in women compared to 1 in 30 for breast cancer. Yet heart experts say that far too many women don't take the risk of heart disease seriously and are failing to take steps to prevent it.

"We need for women to start thinking about prevention now. They can't wait until menopause to take care of their hearts," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, founder of the Women's Heart Program at New York University Medical Center in New York City and author of Women Are Not Small Men: Life-Saving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease.

The experts all agree: don't get scared; get busy. In February 2007, the American Heart Association (AHA) published new guidelines on preventing heart disease in women. They advise you to take steps for your heart health now to prevent a heart attack or stroke in the future.

To get on the right track, follow these 12 steps for a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Heart Step 1: Get real about your risk. "The first roadblock is that heart disease is thought to be a man's disease, and women do not perceive themselves to be at risk," says Thriveni Sanagala, MD, assistant professor of medicine in cardiology at Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Illinois. "Awareness equals motivation to make changes that lead to a healthy heart," she says.

Healthy Heart Step 2: Know what a heart attack feels like. What you think is heartburn or nausea could actually be signs of a heart attack. While the most common symptoms in both women and men are chest pain and discomfort, women are more likely to experience other symptoms -- shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, and unexplained fatigue, Sangala says.

Healthy Heart Step 3: Quit smoking now. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. "Quit now," Goldberg says. "Find a technique that works for you. Options can be anything from smoking support groups, nicotine replacement and medication, to acupuncture and hypnosis." If one way doesn't work, try another, and keep trying until you succeed. The bottom line for heart disease prevention? Just do it.

Healthy Heart Step 4: Start your healthy-heart checkups at age 20. "All women should be screened for heart disease starting at 20," saysGoldberg. Ask your doctor to check your cholesterol and blood pressure, and screen you for diabetes. "We have to work on risk factors early, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, smoking, and diabetes," she says. If your mom had a heart attack before age 60 or your dad had one before 45, your family history ups your risk, as well.

Today on WebMD

cholesterol lab test report
Article
Compressed heart
Article
 
Inside A Heart Attack
SLIDESHOW
chocolate glazed donut and avocado
Slideshow
 

Lower Cholesterol 02
QUIZ
Heart Foods Slideshow
Slideshow
 
Compressed heart
Article
doctor looking at xrays
Video
 

Heart Disease And Ed
SLIDESHOW
Lowering Cholesterol Slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
lowering blood pressure
SLIDESHOW
Wide Awake For Heart Surgery
VIDEO
 

WebMD Special Sections