Health News Articles

Staying Heart Healthy: Not Just For Men

Feb 3, 2014

Staying Heart Healthy: Not Just for Men

When it comes to heart health, the biggest difference between men and women might not be in their hearts but in their heads. That’s because women are far less likely than men to realize their risk for cardiovascular disease. They may know that it’s the number one cause of death among American men, but many don’t realize it’s also the number one cause of death for women.

In fact, more women than men die of cardiovascular disease every year in America. That’s why it’s crucial to understand women’s unique risks and symptoms and to find out what women can do to stay heart healthy. “Prevention,” notes cardiologist Lisa Motavalli, MD, “is the key to heart health.”

Watch what you eat.
“Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber- rich whole grain foods, and avoid saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugars,” advises Dr. Motavalli, board certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine. Weight control is also important. Obesity can put you at greater risk for heart disease by raising blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, increasing hypertension (high blood pressure), and inducing type-2 diabetes.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle.
“Make sure you get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise,” says cardiologist Sherryl Croitor, MD. If you smoke, stop. One of the most significant risk factors for heart disease, smoking is actually a greater risk for women than it is for men. Researchers aren’t sure whether stress itself is a risk factor or whether it intensifies other factors, like high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, but working to control stress is an important step to take.

Be aware of your numbers and your risks.
Know your levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and fasting blood glucose, as well as your blood pressure and body mass index (BMI). “Your numbers
are the starting point for you and your doctor to assess your risk,” says Dr. Croitor, board certified in cardiovascular disease. Find out from your doctor whether and how your numbers may increase your risk for heart disease, and ask if your age and/or family history might play a role as well. Don’t assume that, because you’re young, you’re not at risk. Thousands of women under the age of 45 have heart attacks every year.

Be symptom smart.
There’s one more way that men differ from women in terms of cardiovascular health, and that’s in the symptoms they present during a heart attack. While chest discomfort tends to be the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women, women tend to have many other atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath; fatigue; pain in the neck, jaw, or back; nausea; and/or abdominal pain.

“If you think you or someone you’re with is having a heart attack, call 911 without delay—it’s the best way to make sure that treatment is started right away,” says Dr. Motavalli.

To find a physician affiliated with Princeton Medicine, call 1.800.FIND.A.DR (1.800.346.3237) or visit