Who is more at risk for heart disease – men or women?

Heart disease is an equal opportunity killer. For many years, heart disease was considered to be a male-dominated disease, but now we know that women and their risk of developing heart disease is quickly catching up with men, but tends to occur at a later age.

Generally, men are more at risk for heart disease between the ages of 50 to 60 years old. Women tend to be diagnosed with heart disease between the ages of 65-70. So the difference is not who is at greater risk, but what age men and women tend to develop heart disease.

If men and women become aware of the risk factors they can control and are willing to make lifestyle changes, they can certainly decrease their chances of developing heart disease.

Why are the elderly at risk for heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in men and women greater than the age of 65 with the most common type being Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). CAD is the narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. CAD is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries to your heart causing these vessels to get narrow resulting in the blood flow to the heart slowing down or stopping completely.

The elderly may also be at greater risk due to changes of the heart as a person gets older. For some elderly, the chambers of their heart that pump blood do not work as well and efficiently which can result in greater chances of heart disease.

Blood pressure can also increase with age. High blood pressure is associated with heart failure, heart attack and stroke.

Are people of a certain race at risk for heart disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the U.S., including African Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians. For Native American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians and Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer.

It is surprising to some people that being a certain race increases the risk of heart disease. Some of the groups listed above are certainly more at risk than others.

Why does smoking contribute to heart disease?

Cigarette smoking is such a significant risk factor that the U.S. Surgeon General has called it the “leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States.

Not only does cigarette smoking increase the risk of heart disease by itself, but together with other risk factors, it greatly increases risk. Smoking increases blood pressure and blood clotting, while it decreases lung function and exercise tolerance. For young men and women, it is a significant risk factor as it can produce a greater relative risk in developing heart disease in persons under age 50 than those over the age of 50. Visit our Quit Tobacco Program page for more information on how Renown Health can help you quit.

How does obesity contribute to heart disease?

Obesity is simply defined as too much body fat or 20% or more above your ideal weight. Over one-third of U.S. adults are obese (approximately 75 million adults). Nearly one in every three U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese.

If you have too much body fat, particularly around your waist, you are at a higher risk for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, diabetes and ultimately heart disease and stroke. Obesity by itself significantly increases the risk of heart disease.

What is congestive heart failure?

The term heart failure is alarming by itself, but it does not mean that the heart has failed or is about to stop. It refers to a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs and demand. For some people with heart failure, their heart is not filling with enough blood. For others with heart failure, the heart can’t pump the blood with enough force to the rest of the body. The primary causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart which include: Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Although heart failure is a common condition, it does not have a cure. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than the age of 65. People with heart failure can take medications or make lifestyle changes that will enable them to live healthier, longer and with more quality.

What is a heart arrhythmia?

A problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat is referred to as a heart arrhythmia (or sometimes called dysrhythmia). The heart can either beat too slow, too fast or with an irregular rhythm.

While most arrhythmias can be harmless, some can be serious and and even cause life-threatening signs and symptoms. If the heart does not beat properly, it will not be able to pump blood effectively to the body. With a lack of adequate blood flow, there can be damage done to the brain, heart and other organs.

What should you do if you find out you are at high risk for heart disease?

If you have been assessed that you are at high risk of developing heart disease, you need to take this seriously. Either your risk of developing heart disease within the next few years is high, or you already have heart disease and you don’t even know it. It is extremely important that either your primary care physician or your cardiologist evaluates you to determine if you already have Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and if so, initiate the appropriate treatment strategy. Also, your physician needs to develop a clear and aggressive plan for controlling and even modifying risk factors including smoking cessation, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, exercise, and weight loss. Your physician will be helpful, but it will definitely be up to you to dedicate yourself to reducing your risk.

What is Body Mass Index (BMI)?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated from a person’s height and weight. Although it can provide a useful estimate of how much body fat you have, it does not measure the percentage of body fat.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions: including high blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels that can occur together and increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

If you have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or have any of these conditions of metabolic syndrome, you can reduce your risk for heart disease and diabetes by controlling and modifying your risk factors. The best way is to lose weight, increase your physical activity and make healthier choices in your diet.

What is a stent and how is one used?

A stent is a wire metal mesh tube used to prop open an artery during angioplasty. The stent is collapsed to a small diameter and put over a balloon catheter. It's then moved into the area of the blockage. When the balloon is inflated, the stent expands, locks in place and forms a scaffold. This holds the artery open. The stent stays in the artery permanently, holds it open, improves blood flow to the heart muscle and relieves symptoms (usually chest pain). A few weeks after the stent is placed, the inside lining of the artery (the endothelium) grows over the metal surface of the stent.

When are stents used?

Stents are used depending on certain features of the artery blockage. This includes the size of the artery and where the blockage is. Stenting is a fairly common procedure; in fact, over 70 percent of coronary angioplasty procedures also include stenting.

What are the advantages of using a stent?

In certain patients, stents reduce the re-narrowing that occurs after balloon angioplasty or other procedures that use catheters. Stents also help restore normal blood flow and keep an artery open if it's been torn or injured by the balloon catheter.

Coated stents - The stent slowly releases a drug, and has been shown to significantly reduce the rate of re-blockage that occurs with existing stents and angioplasty procedures.
Drug-eluting stents - In April 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first drug-eluting stent to open clogged coronary arteries