Your Age-by-Age Guide to a Healthy Heart
Hidden risks and new save-your-life advice for every decade
Surprising Hidden Risks
• Hysterectomy. Until recently, women who were having this surgery
because of problems like uterine fibroids often chose to have their ovaries
taken out along with their uterus, as protection against ovarian cancer. But
now there's good reason to rethink that decision: A recent study of almost
30,000 women found that those who had both ovaries removed before age 50 and
who never used estrogen therapy had up to a 98 percent higher risk of heart
disease than those who kept them. Ovaries continue to make small amounts of
hormones for years after natural menopause, guarding against heart disease as
well as stroke.
But what about ovarian cancer? "The heart protection far outweighs the less
than 1 percent lifetime risk of ovarian cancer," notes lead author William H.
Parker, M.D., of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. The
exception: If you have a relative — a mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, or
cousin — who's had ovarian or breast cancer, especially before menopause, then
it might make sense for you to have your ovaries out, says Dr. Parker.
• Breast calcifications. If your mammogram shows specks of calcium
deposits in the arteries of your breast, you might not have to worry about
cancer, but you do need to pay more attention to your cardiovascular health:
You may have more than triple the risk of heart disease of a woman without
these deposits, a recent University of Missouri School of Medicine study found.
Don't count on your primary-care doc to alert you: Even if the calcifications
are noted on the mammogram report (and they may not be), since they're not
cancerous, your doctor may not mention them, says lead author Paul S. Dale,
M.D. But you shouldn't miss out on this chance for lifesaving
information. "Ask if vascular calcifications were noted, and if they were, ask
if your heart health needs to be looked at differently," says Dr. Dale.
YOUR CHECKUP CHECKLIST
Start screening early — then don't slack off. These are the tests all women
should have, says the American Heart Association, but ask your doctor about
special exams or more frequent checks if you're at higher risk.
In Your 40s
• Routine screens: Follow the schedule for your 30s
• Glucose: every three years starting at 45
• A "global risk estimation" — the score that indicates your odds of having a
heart attack in the next 10 years. Repeat every five years