Dr. Ildiko Agoston, a cardiologist at University Health, addresses common misconceptions about women’s heart health and provides facts to set the record straight.
Myth: Heart disease doesn't affect that many women.
Fact: According to the CDC, heart disease accounts for 1 in 5 female deaths in the U.S.
As women get older and go through menopause, heart disease is among the top leaders of morbidity and mortality for women. We lose many protective factors like HDL, which is good cholesterol. Blood pressure also goes up with age.
Additionally, pregnant patients who develop preeclampsia or gestational diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease and heart attack later in life. And now the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recognize that as a special risk factor for women.
I can't emphasize enough why this is important. Here in South Texas, we have one of the highest rates of maternal mortality. And unfortunately, cardiovascular diseases are among the leaders of the reasons for poor outcome in pregnant women.
To help protect themselves, women should be aware of their:
- Blood pressure
- Family history, especially if it includes heart disease or someone in their family died of a heart attack before age 65
Myth: There is no way I can lower my risk for heart disease.
Fact: There are some risk factors for heart disease that you can control. Heart disease risk factors are either modifiable or non-modifiable.
Non-modifiable risk factors are your age and family history. You can’t change those, but you can change your habits, like whether you’re a smoker, and what you eat. If you eat healthier, your cholesterol level will be better, even if you are prone by a family history to have high cholesterol levels.
If you have familial hyperlipidemia that gets diagnosed early and your provider puts you on the right medications, then you minimize your risk by reducing the cholesterol levels which are directly related to plaque buildup in the coronary arteries.
If you get diagnosed early with diabetes and your provider puts you on medications, then you can prevent heart disease and serious complications of diabetes.
Myth: Alcohol doesn’t put me at a greater risk for heart disease.
Fact: That’s a huge myth, especially among young women.
Women are more prone to develop liver cirrhosis if they drink alcohol, especially if they don't drink in moderation. Alcohol also has calories. So when somebody drinks alcohol, that's adding extra unnecessary calories to their diet.
So, if you take all of that into account, that will increase the risk of developing heart failure, or cardiomyopathy, which is a weakened heart muscle that is common in people who drink a lot of alcohol.
Myth: If I take aspirin every day, I won't have a heart attack.
Fact: This might be true for some patients, but aspirin is not for everyone.
You have to treat aspirin as a medication, not a supplement or a vitamin. When you start taking aspirin, it should be discussed with a physician who is familiar with cardiovascular risk factors so they can determine whether you would benefit from taking this medication.
For patients who already have coronary artery disease, aspirin may be helpful to prevent a future heart attack.
Myth: If I already have heart disease, there is nothing I can do to help myself.
Fact: If somebody has heart disease, they need to monitor their condition, and hopefully they already have established care with a cardiologist.
There are so many new medications and technologies for heart failure that can help with disease valves, but you need continued longitudinal care with a specialist, namely a cardiologist, who will guide you through this lifelong disease.
Join Us at the Women’s Health Conference
Join us at the Women's Health Conference at the San Antonio Botanical Garden on May 6, where Dr. Agoston will speak on the important topic of women’s heart health.
You can learn more about the University Health Heart and Vascular Institute online.