When the heart beats for good health...

Symptoms of heart ailment vary for men and women but post-menopause, a dip in estrogen levels should be the warning signal to watch out for, writes Dr Nupur Gupta

There are many things you can do to reduce your chances of heart disease

Cardiovascular disease was largely regarded as a man’s disease until as early as a couple of decades back. However, the statistics emerging in recent years have curtailed this belief. In India, more than 10.5 million deaths occur annually, with CVD accounting for 20.3% of these deaths in men and 16.9% of all deaths in women, according to figures of the Registrar General of India. According to WHO, 7.4 million women over 60 years of age died of heart disease in 2004 as compared to 6.3 million men. In the US, about 88,000 women aged 45-64 years, suffer a heart attack every year, according to a study by American agency National Institute of Health.

What is worth underlining here is that heart disease rates are two-three times higher for postmenopausal women than for those of the same age who have not yet undergone menopause, claims National Institutes of Health (NIH), US Department of Health and Human Services. A woman’s risk of heart disease increases dramatically when she reaches the age of 50 or around the time she goes through menopause as the level of primary female hormone estrogen starts decreasing in the woman’s body.

Risk factors for women over 50

Traditional risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes are common for both the genders. In addition, women also face certain different risk factors as they reach the menopausal age. Estrogen is believed to have a beneficial effect on the inner layer of the artery wall and helps blood vessels maintain a certain amount of flexibility. This protective effect fades away as estrogen levels plummet. Drop in estrogen is considered a particular risk factor for developing a coronary microvascular disease or cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels.

1. At the same time, other changes also take place in the body during this point of time in life.
2. A spike in blood pressure levels as well as an increase in bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
3. Additionally, depression and mental stress is perceived to have a more detrimental effect on a woman’s heart as compared to a man’s.
4. Metabolic syndrome is another risk factor which is a combination of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and accumulation of fat around the abdomen.
5. Diabetes raises the likelihood of cardiovascular disease in both genders.
6. Smoking, as well as lack of physical activity, is a common risk factor that triggers heart diseases in women in their 50s.

Lower your risk

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of heart disease:

1. Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals.

2. Try to cut back on sugar and processed food.

3. Reduce intake of sodium in your diet.

4. Take low-fat protein like lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs.

5. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on a daily basis.

6. Maintain Body Mass Index of less than 25 and a waist circumference of 35 inches.

(The author is a consultant, Centre for Minimally Invasive Gynaecology, Obstetrics & ART Paras Hospitals, Gurugram)

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When the heart beats for good health...

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