Not only is February full of cute little pink and red hearts and gifts for your loved ones, but did you know that February is Heart Disease Awareness Month? Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and having PCOS puts you at greater risk.
There is good news! Heart disease can be prevented and controlled by simple lifestyle changes!
What is Heart Disease?
It is hard to give heart disease a simple definition because it includes a variety of issues that affect the functioning of your heart. It can include heart rhythm problems, infections, or problems related to blocked or narrowing blood vessel walls which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
How is Heart Disease connected to PCOS?
According to some research, the risk of heart attack is 4-7 times higher for women with PCOS. We also are at greater risk of having high blood pressure, high LDL (bad cholesterol) and low HDL (good cholesterol). It is about time we pay attention and start making the changes necessary to prevent the development of heart disease.
Just because they say we have a greater risk, does not mean we need to actually develop it when prevention only takes a few manageable lifestyle changes!
What Risk Factors are in your Control?
Not all risk factors for developing heart disease are in your control such as family history and having PCOS. However, with lifestyle changes you will dramatically reduce your risk of developing heart disease. So, even though your parents have heart disease and you have PCOS, you do not have to develop the disease. It is all about your lifestyle, girl!
Are you at risk for having a heart attack? Here is a great little quiz you can take from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/women-risks
Fitspiration for moms made a great Heart Attack Infographic! How much do you really know about Heart Disease? http://amberkeinath.com/heart-disease-infographic
Keeping a Lookout for Heart Disease
The first thing you will want to do is keep a lookout for heart disease by getting regular physical exams and lab work done. Important lab tests to monitor for heart disease that your doctor may or may not want to perform on a regular basis for you in addition to monitoring your blood pressure:
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol): I like to call this the “lousy” cholesterol. When this level is elevated, cholesterol is building up in the walls of your arteries which put you at greater risk for developing heart disease. The optimal level for LDL is below 100.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol): I like to call this “happy” cholesterol. It’s the good kind of cholesterol to have. This kind of cholesterol finds and conquers the LDL and keeps the bad cholesterol from building up on your artery walls. By having a level above 60, you actually lower your risk for heart disease.
- Total Cholesterol: This measures the HDL, LDL, and other lipids to evaluate your risk for heart disease. Currently the recommendations are that total cholesterol levels should be below 200. There is some research in the medical community that has shown heart attacks are virtually zero in people whose total cholesterol is 150 or below. The jury is still out about that. Just remember, the lower your total cholesterol, the more protected you are against developing heart disease.
- Triglycerides: this measures the amount of fat our blood is carrying from the food that we have eaten. The optimal level for triglycerides is below 150.
Other Important Tests
- C-reactive protein measures the general amount of inflammation in your blood. Research has shown a correlation between the c-reactive protein and heart disease risk. This is not typically a routine blood test that is conducted unless you are at higher risk for heart disease. For low risk of heart disease, c-reactive protein should be below 1.0mg/L.
- Homocysteine is actually an amino acid, those building blocks of protein that the exercise “guru’s” are always talking about. Your homocysteine levels are mostly derived from eating meat. A lower risk for heart disease is with levels between 0.5-2.0 mg/L. So, what’s the connection with heart disease? Doctors are not really sure the connection between the two, but know that higher levels of homocysteine is indicative of higher damage to the arterial walls which can lead to heart disease and blood clots. This test is not used on a regular basis for checking for heart disease risk unless you are already at greater risk.
- Total Fasting Insulin and Total Fasting Blood Sugar look for diabetes. Research has shown if you lower your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, you lower your risk of heart disease. They have many of the same risk factors and can be prevented or even controlled through lifestyle changes.
Side note: with all these lab tests, optimal ranges may differ slightly. Check with your lab or doctor’s office for their ranges.
Steps for Taking Control of your Health
- Get regular exams: It is important to get regular exams with your doctor as well as regular blood lab tests done because many of the signs and symptoms of heart disease are silent. This is why it is also known as a silent killer. Many people do not realize there is something wrong until they have their first heart attack which can be fatal. By getting regular checkups, your doctor can determine how healthy of a heart you have and if there are any changes that you should be making in your lifestyle choices or in medications.
- Increase exercise: The Surgeon General recommends all healthy adults to get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. This will improve your cardiovascular (heart) function and decrease your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
- Get Healthy with your Diet: Focusing on eating more plant-based whole foods and decreasing the amount of fried or processed foods will lower your risk of heart disease. It will help you lower your salt (risk for high blood pressure) and lower your saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol levels (risk for heart disease). Focus on eating food that you actually see grown on a farm such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. These foods will help you keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the healthy ranges.
- Lower stress: By lowering your stress level through exercise and relaxation techniques on a regular basis, you lower your risk of having high blood pressure.
- Quit Smoking: We all think of smoking affecting the lungs, but did you know that it is a leading cause of coronary artery disease which is where plaque forms in your arteries putting you at high risk for heart attack and stroke?
- Limit Alcohol: By limiting your total alcohol intake to no more than 1 4oz drink per day for a woman will lower your risk of having high blood pressure which increases your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
- Lose Weight: Having a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) puts you at greater risk for heart disease. It is important to calculate your BMI and work on losing the weight to get your BMI in the healthy range.
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