Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. It killed more than 289,000 women in 2013, but only 54% of women know just how serious heart disease is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many women may not know what types of heart conditions they may face at different times in their lives. Katherine Schuetze, MD, specializes in interventional cardiology and treats patients at the CardioVascular Institute in Northern Colorado. She breaks down some of the chief heart concerns for women in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Women in their 20s
Dr. Schuetze explains that, during their 20s, women should focus on prevention to keep their hearts healthy for later in life. Making healthy lifestyle decisions early in life can help you avoid several medical problems and reduce your risk of developing heart disease later in life.
“This is the key time in your life to start making heart healthy decisions to avoid heart disease in the future,” Dr. Schuetze said. “This includes not smoking or using drugs, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption. These small changes will translate to a big payoff down the road.”
Many women also experience pregnancy when in their 20s. Dr. Schuetze says pregnant women need to pay particularly close attention to their blood pressure and if they contract gestational diabetes. Both can be risk factors for heart disease later in life.
Dr. Schuetze says the most common heart condition women in their 20s may face are arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats. Arrhythmias have a wide range of symptoms, including a racing heart, a skipping beat or passing out, and Dr. Schuetze recommends talking to your doctor if they are severe.
Women in their 30s
Fortunately, women in their 30s are still at a low risk of contracting heart disease, but according to Dr. Schuetze, it is an even more critical time to focus on prevention. This is often the time that risk factors begin appearing.
“While most of us may not have made all the right choices in our 20s, our 30s are a time when it is critical to focus on living a heart-healthy lifestyle and also teaching your kids about healthy habits,” Dr. Schuetze said.
Dr. Schuetze says, if you don’t regularly see a doctor, your 30s are a good time to start, so a health professional can monitor your blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. And, if you get pregnant during your 30s, it’s even more important to visit your doctor regularly because pregnancy can have several effects on your heart, although major complications are rare. Dr. Schuetze says it is very important to speak with your doctor when experiencing unusual things during pregnancy, such as excessive shortness of breath or a racing heart.
As with younger women, those in their 30s still can develop arrhythmias, and you should be sure to talk with your doctor about any new symptoms.
To keep your heart healthy during your 30s, Dr. Schuetze recommends:
- Regular visits with your doctor
- Avoiding smoking and drugs
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Establishing a regular exercise routine
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
Dr. Schuetze also believes this is a good time to steer your family and friends into healthy, active lifestyles.
Women in their 40s
When women reach their 40s, their risk of developing heart disease is still low because of estrogen, according to Dr. Schuetze. However, hormones begin changing, and women tend to start developing common risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.
Those common risk factors can often go unnoticed, however. That’s why Dr. Schuetze says it is important for women in their 40s to see a doctor on a regular basis.
“This is also the time when I see a lot of women start to focus again on their health as opposed to only that of their kids and family,” Dr. Schuetze said. “Often, because of aging parents, they are made aware of things, such as heart disease, which may run in the family.”
To keep your heart healthy, Dr. Schuetze recommends women in their 40s:
- Maintain a healthy weight and stay active—it reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Quit smoking. Plenty of research shows a direct connection between smoking and cardiovascular disease.
- Avoid estrogen replacement therapy. Talk to your doctor about alternative options that do not increase your risk for heart disease.
It’s never too late to start taking care of your heart, and it all starts with regular visits with your doctor. No matter your age, take the steps necessary to live a heart-healthy life.