Women are literally the heartbeat of so much in our society. They bring expertise, care, experience, warmth, insight and inspiration to those their lives touch—at home, at work and in their communities.
A woman’s greatest asset, however, may also be her greatest liability: her heart.
The reason? Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the United States, with one in four women dying from heart disease. Additionally, 23% of women die within one year of a heart attack, while two-thirds of women who have a heart attack fail to make a full recovery.
The risk gets worse as time goes on. As women approach their mid-life years, risks for heart disease and heart attack can increase. One in eight women between the ages of 45 and 64 has some form of heart disease, increasing to one in four women for those who are over 65. What’s more is that within six years of having a heart attack, 46% of women are disabled with heart failure.
Heart failure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood as it should. For some, that means that the heart can’t fill with blood as necessary. For others, it could entail blood not getting to the rest of the body with enough force. Some people, however, may experience both of these effects.
Heart failure happens over a period of time, and can affect one or both sides of the heart. If it affects the right side, then the heart is unable to pump blood to the lungs where it gets oxygen. This can result in fluid buildup in the feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen and sometimes the veins in the neck.
It heart failure affects the left side, then the heart can’t pump oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Right-sided and left-sided heart failure leads to shortness of breath and fatigue. Most people with heart failure, unfortunately, have both sides of the heart affected.
Heart disease has serious implications for women’s health and their quality of life, and that’s why it’s essential for women to take care of their hearts. The encouraging news is that women can reduce their risk for heart disease by up to 82% just by leading a healthy lifestyle.
If you want to guard your heart, be sure to eat a heart-healthy diet including foods rich in omega-3s and other healthy fats, whole grains (including oats), as well as plenty of vegetables and fruits. Getting regular exercise, maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels, a healthy weight, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake can help, too.
The truth is that women often look after the hearts of others. Maybe it’s time they start caring more for their own as well.