Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S. Yet you can feel absolutely fine and not know you have it. For many women, the first sign of heart disease is their last.
That’s where this checklist of heart disease risk factors comes in. See which ones apply to you, and share the list with your primary care provider.
Your provider can help you understand your personal risk of heart disease—and what steps may be necessary to protect your heart. Among the key risk factors:
“High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease,” says John A. Scherschel, MD, FACC, FHRS, electrophysiologist and president of Prairie Cardiovascular. “When it’s not controlled, it can damage your heart.”
High levels of LDL. That’s the bad cholesterol, which contributes to fatty buildup in arteries that feed your heart.
Smoking. Lighting up can permanently damage your heart and blood vessels.
Extra pounds. The more overweight you are, the higher your heart disease risk. Pounds that settle around your waist are especially risky.
Diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can raise the risk of high blood pressure and blood clots that can cause a heart attack.
Not enough exercise. Sitting too much ups your risk.
A family history of heart disease. Dr. Scherschel says if your father or a brother had heart disease before age 55, you have a higher risk yourself. If your mother or a sister had heart disease before age 65, you also face a heightened risk.
More birthdays. Heart disease can happen at any age. But risk tends to rise around or after menopause.
“It’s important to talk to your primary care provider about heart disease risk factors,” says Dr. Scherschel. “Your doctor can help you determine next steps to protect your health. They will also refer you to a cardiologist if you need specialized care.”
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Office on Women’s Health