Women and cardiovascular disease
Diseases of the heart and circulation claim more women’s lives than all forms of cancer put together.
Smoking is one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease. People who smoke are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as people who have never smoked. If you are a smoker, stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to reduce the risk of having a heart attack and to live longer. To get help with quitting, try calling Stop Smoking Wales on 0800 085 2219 or Smoker’s Helpline Wales on 0800 169 0 169.
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood in your arteries and for the general population should be below 140/85. High blood pressure (hypertension) is when your blood pressure is constantly higher than the recommended level. You can attend your GP surgery for a blood pressure check and advice; many local pharmacies also offer this service.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is found in the blood. Having too much of the harmful variety is primarily caused by getting too much saturated fat in our diets; but can also be caused by genetic factors.
Diabetes significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and can cause other serious health problems too. It’s important to reduce your risk of developing diabetes (type 2) in the first place, by leading a healthy lifestyle. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to manage your condition correctly in order to limit the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Your practice nurse or GP will be able to advise you on how to manage your condition to reduce your risks.
People who do regular physical activity have half the risk of dying from coronary heart disease compared with people who are not active. The type of activity recommended for heart health is moderate, rhythmic (aerobic) exercise such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. Aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day at least five times a week.
Being overweight can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease; those with abdominal obesity are also at greater risk. Losing weight will help lower your cholesterol level and reduce your risk of developing diabetes. If you eat a lot of fatty foods or you eat more calories than your body burns up, you will put on weight.
Excessive drinking will increase your blood pressure, your body weight and damage your liver and kidneys. If you drink alcohol, make sure you drink within sensible limits. Women should drink no more than 2 to 3 units a day. It’s also important to have at least one or two days free from alcohol each week.
The contraceptive pill
Women taking the contraceptive pill, especially those who also smoke, have a slightly higher risk of developing a cardiovascular disease. Talk to your GP about how to ensure your blood pressure is monitored whilst taking the contraceptive pill.
Menopause/Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Women have slightly lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases before the menopause, but prescribing HRT after the menopause does not reduce that risk.
If you’re worried about cardiovascular diseases, then visit your GP or practice nurse, who will give you a ‘heart health assessment’ also known as a ‘cardiovascular risk assessment’.