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A Woman’s Heart: Keep It Healthy Through the Ages

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both genders, and among those under age 50, heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal in women. Awareness and prevention—utilizing these tips—will help protect your heart through the decades.

Teens Overweight teens may develop hypertension or diabetes, precursors of cardiovascular disease. If your teen is overweight or has a family history of diabetes or heart disease, talk to a doctor about a prevention plan.
20s and 30s High blood pressure, even early in life, increases risk for heart disease.
Birth control pills and smoking are a dangerous duo, especially in younger women. Both can elevate blood pressure, and smoking also damages the heart and blood vessels and increases blood clotting.
Some pregnant women develop diabetes or preeclampsia (heightened blood pressure and increased protein in urine). These problems may disappear after childbirth but are a marker for hypertension and diabetes later in life.
Get your blood pressure checked every two years, starting at age 20—more often if you have hypertension.
Before you begin taking contraceptives, discuss the risks with your doctor. Before your doctor prescribes the pill, make sure he or she measures and records your blood pressure. Get blood pressure checks every six months or so.
Take low-dose aspirin beginning in the 12th week of pregnancy, and if you develop preeclampsia, ask your doctor about blood pressure medication. Work with your doctor to get extra surveillance for hypertension later in life.
50s A woman’s natural estrogen helps increase her “good” cholesterol, decrease her “bad” cholesterol and keep blood vessels flexible to ease blood flow. Hormone replacement therapy isn’t currently recommended to reduce heart disease risk, so focus on lifestyle measures. Eat lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and fatty fish, and get 150 minutes of exercise per week. Make a plan to handle stressful parts of life too.
60s and beyond Most women over 65 have atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries.” Talk to your doctor about taking low-dose aspirin, which can help prevent clots that can lead to heart attack or stroke.

On the Pulse sources: El Camino Hospital; American Heart Association; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; National Institutes of Health; Heart Foundation; World Heart Foundation; Harvard Medical School; Mayo Clinic; Cleveland Clinic; American Association of Family Physicians; JAMA; Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of the El Camino Hospital Health Beat magazine.