Large studies published this year reveal an alarming trend: Women are up to three times more likely to die after a heart attack than men, largely due to unequal care and treatment. Women are less likely to receive the same risk-factor assessments and diagnostic tests for cardiovascular disease (CVD), leading to women being 50% more likely to be initially misdiagnosed. After a heart attack, women are less likely to receive procedures to reopen blocked arteries, such as stents or bypass surgery; and medications to reduce risk for a second heart attack, such as statins or aspirin, despite guidelines calling for these treatments to be prescribed for both genders.
Part of the problem is the lingering myth that CVD is mainly a problem for men. In reality, it is the leading killer of both men and women, often from heart attacks or strokes, claiming more female lives than all forms of cancer combined. Another scary fact: 64% of women who die suddenly from a heart attack were previously unaware that they had CVD. The key takeaway is that women need to be their own advocates for optimal cardiovascular care and take action NOW to avoid heart attacks and strokes. Here are the BaleDoneen Method’s top ten prevention tips, drawn from a recent women’s heart health presentation by Dr. Amy Doneen:
- Get educated. Every 43 seconds someone in the U.S. has a heart attack, and on average, one American dies from a stroke every four minutes. However, as discussed more fully in the BaleDoneen book, Beat the Heart Attack Gene, all heart attacks and strokes are potentially preventable — even if you have already suffered one or more of these events. Our method uses advanced lab and imaging tests to directly check each patient for hidden signs of arterial disease, including a painless ultrasound exam of the neck arteries. If plaque is found in your arteries, you are at risk for a heart attack or stroke and need the optimal care of the BaleDoneen Method, which has been shown in two peer-reviewed studies to halt or reverse the disease. Also ask your medical provider to check you for cardiovascular red flags.
- Move more. Exercise has such powerful mental and physical benefits that it’s been called “the ultimate wonder drug.” For people with genetic risk for heart attack, exercise has been shown in a new study to lower that risk by 50%! To keep your heart healthy, the American Heart Association and the BaleDoneen Method recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, such as walking, jogging, biking, or swimming. Workouts that target belly fat also have important benefits: A recent study reported that losing just two inches from your waist can significantly reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and other heart attack risks. Always check with your medical provider before starting a new workout to make sure it’s right for you.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle. An optimal lifestyle reduces CVD and stroke risk by up to 90%! Take excellent care of your heart by following these simple tips: Shake the sugar habit. A high-sugar diet has been shown to triple risk for fatal CVD, while a diet that’s high in fruit and vegetables has the opposite effect. Maintain a healthy weight: If getting to your ideal weight seems daunting, start with a more modest goal. Shedding as few as 7 to 10 pounds reduces risk for type 2 diabetes (a major risk factor for heart disease) by up to 70%, even if you are already pre-diabetic. Look for ways to tame tension: A large study in 52 countries found that psychological factors, including stress, nearly tripled heart attack risk. Practice mindfulness and other relaxing activities, such as laughter yoga.
- No nicotine. Every year, secondhand smoke causes more than 8,000 deaths from stroke, while smoking (and other types of nicotine use, such as vaping or chewing tobacco) causes one in three deaths from CVD. Smoking makes blood stickier and more likely to clot, which can block blood flow to the heart (triggering a heart attack) or the brain (leading to a stroke). In addition, women who smoke die up to 19 years sooner than nonsmokers! Even one cigarette daily has been shown to dramatically increase risk for heart attack, stroke and early death.
- Check blood pressure. Sixty-seven million Americans — about one in three adults — have high blood pressure (a reading of 140/90 or higher), and 70 million have pre-hypertension (a reading of 120/80 to 139/89). Although elevated blood pressure is the leading risk for stroke and a major contributor to heart disease, many people who have it aren’t aware of their condition or don’t have under control. Yet high blood pressure is highly treatable with weight loss, dietary and lifestyle changes and, in many cases, medications. A large study found that for each 10 mm hG drop in blood pressure, heart attack risk fell by 50%! Also be aware of new blood pressure guidelines and discuss your numbers with your medical provider.
- Get checked for ALL dangerous types of cholesterol. Most patients assume that the standard cholesterol test known as “a lipid profile” or “coronary risk panel” checks for all forms of dangerous cholesterol that raise heart attack and stroke risk. However, most healthcare providers don’t test patients for a common inherited-cholesterol disorder: elevated levels of lipoprotein (a), a type of cholesterol that triples risk for heart attacks. Statins don’t work well for this disorder, but it can treated with niacin (vitamin B) and other therapies. If the results are normal, this $20 test only needs to done once in a lifetime.
- Get checked for pre-diabetes. It’s very common for people to be diagnosed with diabetes or insulin resistance (IR), a disorder also known as “prediabetes,” shortly after they suffer a heart attack. While these conditions may sound unrelated, actually IR is the underlying cause of 70% of heart attacks. BaleDoneen and other studies show that the most accurate screening test for IR, prediabetes and diabetes is the 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). In the time it would take to watch a movie, you can find out if you have IR, which can often be treated or reversed with lifestyle changes. Rated as “the gold standard” in accuracy by the American Diabetes Association, this test is covered by almost every health plan.
- Get dental care at least twice a year. If you haven’t seen your dentist lately, here’s some powerful motivation to make an appointment: Keeping your gums healthy could help you avoid a heart attack! Conversely, having periodontal (gum) disease due to certain high-risk oral bacteria can actually cause cardiovascular disease, according to a landmark BaleDoneen study published in Postgraduate Medical Journal. Follow our easy four-step plan to optimize your oral health, which includes being checked for gum disease and high-risk oral pathogens and a program of home care to disinfect your mouth.
- Sleep well. Regardless of other risk factors, people who don’t sleep enough face an increased threat of CVD. In a study of about 3,000 people over the age of 45, those who snoozed fewer than six hours a night were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as people who slept six to eight hours a night. The sweet spot for slumber is six to eight hours a night. Try these five natural ways to sleep better to ensure that you get the heart-healthy rest you need.
- Save a life. Tell a friend and teach a friend what you learned here. You could save a life!