Heart Health Checklist Explained
This Valentine’s Day, Her Heart is encouraging women to get their heart health checked. The checklist (which you can access here) has questions relating to various aspects of your life. We hope this article will help you understand why each question (and your answer) is important. Many different things can be a risk factor for heart disease. Fortunately, once you know your risk, heart disease is 80% preventable!
So let’s break down some points on the checklist…
Genes can pass on the risk of heart disease. Having a family history of this can be as strong an indicator as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. It is vital to be aware of who in your immediate family – mother, father, siblings – have experienced heart disease or had other related diseases such as Diabetes and to let your doctor know.
There are some cultural and minority groups who are at increased risk of heart disease. For example, Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to be affected by heart disease than other Australians due to having higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure. There is also evidence that people from South Asian and African/Caribbean background have an increased risk of heart disease due to high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The impact that smoking has on the body, in particular on the heart, is severe. Approximately 40% of women who smoke die due to heart disease, stroke, or blood vessel disease. Women who smoke and also take the contraceptive pill have a 10 times higher risk of having a heart attack. The single most important thing you can do for your heart is to stop smoking, and the good news is that the risk to your heart health decreases significantly soon after you stop.
In women, Diabetes can triple your risk of having heart disease. People who have uncontrolled diabetes are at risk at an earlier age. One person every five minutes develops diabetes; that is 280 Australians every day.
Hypertension/ high blood pressure
Your blood pressure is a measurement of the force of your blood pushing against the artery walls. The pressure is increased due to the build-up of plaque on the artery walls, which reduces blood flow to the heart and it can weaken the walls of the blood vessel. 1 in 4 women have high blood pressure and this can go undetected, so it’s important to get it checked.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood and too much cholesterol can increase your risk of developing heart disease or of having a heart attack due to it narrowing your arteries. There is good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins or HDL) and bad cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins or LDL). The risk is particularly high if you have a high level of bad cholesterol and a low level of good cholesterol. When we exercise, we get an increase in the “good” cholesterol.
When we are stressed, there is an increase of the hormones adrenaline into our blood stream and over time an increase in cortisol; there is also reduced coronary blood flow and an increase in the chance of clot formation. It is also more likely that we adopt unhealthy behaviours, such as increasing alcohol intake or smoking in order to relax; or eating fast food due to being short of time.
These are only a few of many risk factors on our checklist; please make sure to download the checklist here and discuss any concerns with your GP.