What every woman should know about heart health
UF Health cardiologist urges women to stay educated about heart health.
Women’s Health Week was observed May 9 – 15, providing a great opportunity to discuss women’s heart health.
Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, refers to a number of conditions, including heart attacks, strokes and peripheral arterial disease, remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three women die from CVD every year.
Gladys Velarde, MD, medical director of the UF Health Women’s Cardiovascular Program, encourages all women to stay on top of their heart health, not just during awareness weeks and months, but year-round.
“Heart disease takes no time off,” said Velarde. “COVID-19 has also caused many to delay their regular health care visits, but it’s time to get back on track and meet with your provider regularly.”
Women can start by understanding the different heart conditions, knowing risk factors and following preventive guidelines.
Understand heart conditions
These are the common heart conditions that can affect women.
- Coronary artery disease, or CAD. When coronary arteries are blocked, blood flow to the heart muscle is impaired. This can cause chest discomfort or pain. If the heart muscle is deprived of blood supply for an extended period, a heart attack may ensue, which could be fatal.
- Atherosclerosis. This occurs when blood flow is blocked, not only to the heart, but also to other organs like the brain or kidneys. This can worsen when risk factors go unchecked and untreated.
- Valvular heart disease. This occurs when any valve in the heart is damaged or diseased. This can be caused by a condition since birth, infections, radiation, degenerative changes associated with aging or conditions linked to other types of heart disease. Ultimately, if untreated, heart failure may ensue.
- Heart failure. When the heart muscle does not pump blood as well as it should, heart failure may follow. CAD, high blood pressure and valvular problems can lead to heart failure. They can weaken the heart, causing it to stiffen and pump inefficiently.
- Arrhythmias. An arrhythmia is an irregular heart rhythm. This is caused by changes in heart tissue and electrical signals controlling the heartbeat. Damage from disease, injury or genetics can cause those changes.
Know and discuss your risks
Many women have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or being a smoker or overweight. Having multiple risk factors can increase your risk for heart disease. Other key risk factors to keep in mind include:
- Pregnancy complications, such as eclampsia, a history of premature births or a history of frequent miscarriages.
- Certain autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, can increase the risk of heart disease and require extra attention.
- Excessive fat around the waist can cause damage to the heart and blood vessels.
- Smoking and using oral contraceptives increase the risk of heart disease. Postmenopausal and diabetic women who smoke are at a particularly high risk of developing heart disease.
- Family history of CVD, especially in immediate relatives under age 65, increases your risk.
Many risk factors are modifiable or preventable, so it’s important to discuss your risks with your doctor and follow their heart-healthy lifestyle recommendations.
“Our group of outstanding female cardiologists and nurse practitioners can develop strategies and treatment methods to help patients maximize the care of their hearts,” said Velarde.
For more information or to schedule a consultation with our women’s cardiology experts, visit www.UFHealthJax.org/womens-cardiovascular or call 904.383.1011.
Researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville and Gainesville are conducting a clinical trial surrounding women’s heart health. Learn more and see if you qualify.