Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Society for Women's Health Research
Newswise — The word is out: women are at risk for heart disease, just like men. In fact, roughly twice as many women in this country will die of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases than from all forms of cancer combined, including breast cancer, according to the American Heart Association.
Risk factors for heart disease and stroke have long been identified. Several risk factors cannot be controlled by the individual, such as sex, increasing age and a family history of heart disease. Others can be modified and include:
"¢ High blood pressure and cholesterol
"¢ Sedentary lifestyle
"¢ Body weight
Diabetes continues to be a growing problem in the United States for both men and women. A study published in the December 2007 issue of the European Heart Journal reveals that diabetes is a stronger risk factor for heart disease death in women than in men.
"The reason for the higher relative risk of coronary heart disease in women with diabetes than in men with diabetes is still unclear," explains Ane Cecilie Dale, M.D., the study's lead researcher and head of the Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. "But research in this field continues to go on."
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, diabetes affects approximately 8.9 percent of American women. The occurrence of diabetes is significantly higher among African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, and Asian/Pacific Islander women than in white women.
Women with diabetes have a two to four times higher risk of dying from heart disease and stroke compared to women without diabetes, according to data from the American Heart Association. Women with diabetes are often overweight and suffer from high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and high cholesterol levels, which can add to the risk.
"Women with diabetes need to be aware of the associated risk of heart disease. The most important thing to do for all persons with diabetes to protect themselves from heart disease and other diabetes complications is to have a good glucometabolic control with a blood glucose as near normal as possible," Dale said. "They also need to control other risk factors like hypertension and blood cholesterol levels. In addition it is important to quit smoking, have a healthy diet and practice regularly exercise."
Considering how complex the management of diabetes and heart diseases risks are, women should talk to their health care providers to develop a plan of action. Without the support of health care professionals, patients can easily feel overwhelmed.
February is American Heart Month. For tips on reducing your heart disease risk, visit the American Heart Association Web site: http:/www.heart.org. For diabetes information, visit the American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org. WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, provides patients with education and grassroots support networks. WomenHeart is online at http://www.womenheart.org.