February is American Heart Month and this Friday, February 3, is Wear Red Day to draw attention to heart disease in women. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women (and men) in the United States with one in four women dying from the disease. While the disease does not discriminate who is affected, some of the factors including high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, and diabetes are more prevalent in black women than white women. Everyone can lower their risk by leading a healthy lifestyle.
There are risk factors that you can’t change, such as a family history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. In each case, these conditions can be controlled with medications and lifestyle changes such as healthier eating habits and exercise.
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease in women that can be changed. Women who smoke are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than women who don’t smoke. Chemicals in the smoke, such as nicotine, can harm your heart and damage your blood vessels by decreasing the amount of oxygen to the heart, and increasing your blood pressure and blood clotting. But if you quit smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate return to normal in 20 minutes. One year after you quit, your risk of developing heart disease risk is cut in half. If you quit smoking, it not only benefits you, it benefits your family too because they are no longer exposed to your secondhand smoke or the toxins that smoke deposits on your skin, hair and clothes.
The first step in getting a healthier you is to see your doctor. Find out what your numbers are and how you can better control your risks for heart disease.