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Four myths about women and heart disease

Bryn Mawr Hospital August 24, 2015 General Wellness

There’s no shortage of information available to women who are at risk for heart disease but, unfortunately, many women are still confused about some of the key facts about their heart health.

“Many women who suffer a cardiac event or who have heart disease in their family are surprised by it or say ‘I didn’t think this could happen to me’,” says Leslie Poor, MD, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital and co-director of the Women’s Heart Initiative. “Despite the information available, there are many women who are still surprised by how prevalent heart disease is and how many women it affects. Just 60 percent of women are aware that heart disease is their leading cause of death.”

Below, Dr. Poor explores some of the most common myths associated with women’s heart disease, and reveals the truth behind them.

Myth: Heart disease is for the over-50 crowd

Just as many people are quick to dismiss heart disease as a ‘man’s disease,’ they’re also quick to dismiss it as something that affects only an older population. But the numbers don’t lie.

“Heart disease is the third leading cause of death for women ages 35–44 and the second leading cause of death for women ages 45 to 54,” says Dr. Poor. “This is something that is affecting an increasing number of young women every year.”

Start to take charge of your heart healthy early by developing healthy habits and talking to your primary care physician or Ob/Gyn about the role of pregnancy and birth control in your heart disease risk.

Myth: Heart disease only happens to people who don’t exercise

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk for heart disease, but it’s not a cure-all. Even women who are fit can have a poor diet, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or a genetic risk for heart disease. Don’t assume that just because the number on the scale looks good that heart disease isn’t something to worry about.

In addition to exercising on most days of the week, make sure you’re visiting your primary care physician for regular checks of your blood pressure and cholesterol, and maintain a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

Myth: Most women know their heart disease risks

Although increased awareness about women’s heart disease has led more women to take control of their risk factors and recognize the symptoms of a cardiac event sooner, there are still many women who don’t realize that they have unique risks for heart disease.

“Lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure or glucose intolerance during pregnancy, birth control pills, and menopause are heart disease risk factors that are unique to women,” explains Dr. Poor. “It’s important for a woman’s care team to understand these risk factors.”

Work with your primary care physician to identify a cardiologist who is experienced in treating women’s hearts. At the Lankenau Heart Institute, our cardiac experts understand the unique heart health needs of women and are proud to feature a team of 11 female cardiologists.

Myth: There’s nothing I can do about my family’s heart disease risk

You might not be able to change your family’s health history, but you can practice healthy habits that help offset it. A healthy weight, heart-healthy diet, a regular exercise and sleep schedule, and annual blood pressure and cholesterol screenings can help keep your heart health under control.

“A healthy lifestyle in young adulthood is strongly associated with a lower risk for heart disease in middle age,” says Dr. Poor. “Developing healthy habits at a young age translates to better health at all ages. Have a discussion with your physician about your personal risk for heart disease and take an active role in lowering your risk.”

We'll be busting more myths about heart disease at our upcoming event with Brandywine Senior Living, Top 10 myths about heart disease. Join us on Thursday, February 16 in Haverford or on Thursday, February 23 in Phoenixville. Visit our website to register or learn more.