Heart disease is responsible for killing 1 in 3 women in the U.S. every year – that’s one woman every 80 seconds.

“Many women are more worried about breast cancer, but six times as many women die from heart disease each year. The reality is that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women,” BCH cardiologist Molly Ware, MD, told a crowd of nearly 100 people during a free health lecture on Feb. 28 at the Lafayette Public Library.

“But the key takeaway is that with the right information, actions and care, heart disease can often be prevented,” she said.

The most important action: know your numbers

Dr. Ware said that one way for women to stay on top of heart disease is to understand their risk factors and keep track of critical health numbers:

  • High blood pressure, even if treated, can damage your heart as well as increase your risk for stroke. While it can fluctuate with exercise, stress or sleep, try to keep your blood pressure below 120/80 mm Hg.
  • High cholesterol is considered a risk because it can build up on the walls of the arteries. LDL cholesterol levels should remain below 100 mg/dL, while HDL levels should be 50 mg/dL or higher.
  • non-HDL cholesterol is calculated but subtracting your HDL level from your total cholesterol number. Keep your non-HDL below 130 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides is a type of fat that can contribute to hardening of the arteries. Optimal triglyceride levels are less than 150 mg/dL.
  • Diabetes can damage blood vessels over time, leading to heart disease. An A1C test can measure blood sugar levels. Target an A1C level of less than 7 percent.
  • Excess weight makes your heart work harder and can have negative impacts. Body mass index (BMI) is a good indicator of health weights. It is a measure of your weight in relation to your height and is calculated in conjunction with your waist circumference. A BMI between 18.5-24.9 (kg/m2) and waist circumference under 35 inches indicates a healthy weight.

Smoking, family history of early heart disease, chronic kidney disease, age of more than 55 years, and sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise are additional risk factors.

Screening tests can be a wake-up call

“Sometimes heart disease is silent and women don’t even know they have it until they experience a heart attack, heart valve problems or irregular heartbeat,” Dr. Ware warned.

In fact, almost two-thirds of those who experience sudden cardiac death have no previous symptoms.

“Regular screenings help us treat the risk factor with lifestyle changes and medications. They can be a wake-up call about the threat of heart disease or a life-threatening cardiac event.”

Dr. Ware described some of the newest screening tests for assessing heart health:

  • Coronary artery calcium scoring, based on a CT scan, looks for plaque buildup inside the heart’s major vessels. It is helpful for people who have borderline risk factors.
  • Lipoprotein testing. Lipoprotein, or Lp(a), is a particle in your blood that carries cholesterol. Elevated levels of lipoprotein have been shown to increase the risk of atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in the wall of arteries.
  • Measures of inflammation. A hs-CRP test measures the level of C-reactive protein in your blood, which tends to be elevated when there’s inflammation in your body, including within the arteries. However, this test is nonspecific and elevated levels of CRP might occur for any type of inflammatory condition.
  • Carotid artery thickness, measured through an ultrasound exam, looks at the plaque buildup in the arteries of the neck, serving as a predictor of plaque buildup within the arteries of the heart.

If you wish to understand your risk factors for heart disease or to be screened, schedule an appointment with Molly Ware, MD by calling (303) 442-2395.

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