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For Women: The FDA Gives Tips to Prevent Heart Disease

Heart healthy foods

A healthy heart needs a healthy diet, which includes eating a variety of fruits or vegetables each day.

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More women die from heart disease than from any other cause: about one in four American women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But you can take action now to reduce your risk. Resources from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can help women of all ages learn how to use FDA-approved drugs and devices safely to prevent and treat heart disease.

The FDA offers fact sheets, videos, and other web-based tools to teach you not only about heart disease, but also conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, which can increase a woman's heart disease risk.

The FDA also offers the “Heart Health for Women” site to connect women to agency resources to support heart-healthy living. Visit the website at www.fda.gov/womenshearthealth.

“The risk of heart disease increases for everyone as they age,” explains FDA cardiologist Shari Targum, M.D., M.P.H. “For women, the risk goes up after menopause, but younger women can also develop heart disease.”

So read on for tips on how to reduce your risk and make informed decisions about your health. Even small changes can help.

8 Tips to Reduce Your Risk

Know your risk factors. Nine out of 10 women have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Risk factors include:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • a family history of premature heart disease

Obesity also increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and pre-diabetes, which increases the risk of heart disease. Note: With the exception of family history, you can modify the other risk factors to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Manage current health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Talk to your health care provider to confirm the best treatment plan.

Recognize symptoms of a heart attack in women—and call 9-1-1 if needed. Know that symptoms in women can be the same or different as those in men.

Symptoms can include:

  • an ache or feeling of tightness in the chest, arm(s), neck, jaw, back, or abdomen
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea/vomiting
  • lightheadedness
  • extreme fatigue
  • breaking out in a cold sweat

Note: As with men, the most common symptom of a heart attack in women is chest discomfort. But you can have a heart attack without chest pain or pressure. And women are more likely than men to have other symptoms such as back pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, indigestion, and nausea/vomiting.

“If you have these symptoms and suspect you’re having a heart attack, call 9-1-1,” says Targum. Call even if you’re not sure; it could save your life.

Do regular physical activity and maintain a healthy weight. You don’t need to complete all activity at one set time—and it’s okay if you’re not a fan of the gym.

“Walking may be one easy way to start,” says Targum. “Talk to your health care provider about how much activity is right for you.”

Make heart-healthy food choices. “For example, you can eat fruits and vegetables with each meal—and limit saturated fat and added sugars,” says Targum, who also emphasizes a focus on whole grains. And if you choose to eat meats, choose the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy ways. The Nutrition Facts label can tell you key information about the packaged foods you eat, and it includes details about serving sizes and nutrients like fat and sugar. You can check with your health care provider to confirm the food choices best for you.

Know daily use of aspirin is not right for everyone. Talk with a health care provider before you use aspirin to prevent heart attacks.

If you smoke, try to quit. Check out the FDA’s website to learn more about how smoking affects heart health—and to learn more about medicines to help you quit.

Talk to a health care provider about whether you can participate in a clinical trial for a heart medication or procedure. A clinical trial is a research study that involves human volunteers. You can visit the FDA’s Women in Clinical Trials page to learn more.

Menopause and Heart Health

“Menopause does not cause heart disease,” says Targum. “But the decline in estrogen after menopause may be one of several factors in the increase in heart disease risk.”

Other risks, such as weight gain, may also increase around the time of menopause.

Hormone therapy can be used to treat some of the problems women have during menopause. However, FDA has not approved any estrogen hormone replacement therapy for reduction of heart disease.

Make a Plan, Take Action

Work with your health care provider to make a plan for your heart health. No matter what routine you choose, make a list of your medicines and supplements and bring it with you to all your appointments. Also talk to your health care provider if you have any questions. You can do it!

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