Considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., women’s heart health is important at every age. But each life stage comes with unique prevention opportunities and risks. Here Duke cardiologist Radha Kachhy, MD, offers tips for women to keep your heart in top shape through the years.
In Your 20s
- If you smoke, quit—at any age. Smoking is one of the top risks factors for developing heart disease. Not only that, people who smoke develop heart disease earlier than people who don’t. The sooner you quit, the less damage is done.
- Prioritize prevention. Establishing a healthy lifestyle, exercising regularly, following a nutritious diet, and attending to mental health gives your heart a strong head start.
In Your 30s and 40s
- Get your cholesterol checked at least once in your 30s. If it is high, talk to your doctor about how to lower your it. Research shows the longer you have high cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease.
- Research your risk. Do you know your risk for heart disease? Look into your family history, because genetics can be a major contributor. Talk to your doctor about this and other risk factors like high blood pressure and stress. Here are a few others that you may not know about: preeclampsia and gestational diabetes during pregnancy, reaching menopause before age 40, and polycystic ovary syndrome can significantly increase your chances of developing heart disease. If any of these conditions apply to you, make sure your doctor knows and advocate for frequent check-ups.
In Your 50s and Beyond
- Keep moving. Activity levels tend to drop as we age, but it’s important not to slip into a sedentary lifestyle. Find sustainable ways (because you’re busy!) to fit in exercise every day. Research shows that a brisk walk is just as effective as running when it comes to reducing your risk of heart disease.
- Expect differences after menopause. “The change” is a milestone in many ways, including heart health. Your cholesterol and blood pressure may increase. If so, you might need to start medications to control your levels.
- Don’t brush off signs or symptoms. You understand your body better than anyone, so you know what’s normal and what’s not. If you notice changes like shortness of breath, sweating more than normal during and after exertion, or heart pounding, pay attention. Research shows that women tend to delay seeking care for heart-related symptoms -- don’t wait until it’s too late.
A Healthy Heart Starts Today
Duke heart disease prevention specialists offer comprehensive assessments to help you understand and reduce your risk of heart disease. We also have a team of cardiologists who specialize in women’s heart health, recognize women’s unique risk factors, and understand that women may respond differently than men to heart treatments. It’s never too early or late to improve your heart health -- we can help.