Women and heart disease - reduce your risk

Women at greater risk of heart diseasePic: Getty Images/Glow Images

It is the UK's biggest killer, with 82,000 women and 79,000 men dying from heart disease and associated illnesses each year. The number of women suffering with heart problems is on the rise, with younger women increasingly at risk of 'vascular events', so it's important to protect yourself against this life-threatening illness.

Change your lifestyle
Obesity, smoking, drinking are all major contributors to heart health problems, and with young professional women drinking vino after work, smoking more than in years past, and grabbing fast food on the go, it could be a pointer to why more and more women under 50 are suffering with coronary disease.

Top of your list of lifestyle changes should be to quit smoking. It damages the lining of the arteries, leading to a build up of fatty material that narrows the artery. Furthermore, the carbon monoxide found in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood so that your heart has to work harder, and the blood is more likely to clot. According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who don't. Reason enough to ditch the habit.

Drinking alcohol, while not a problem in moderation, can also cause serious problems. Too much booze, i.e. above the 14 units per week recommended for women, can raise the levels of fats in the blood known as triglycerides, as well as the high blood pressure and heart failure associated with the increased calorie intake. The good news is that according to the American Heart Association, the incidence of heart disease in those women who stick to a one-a-day limit is lower than in non-drinkers. It's just a question of moderating your intake.

Finally, obesity is known to increase the risk of developing hypertension, type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis, all conditions that significantly increase your chances of cardiovascular disease. Swap the ready meals for home-cooked, balanced eats, and get regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

Ease the stress
Though the BHF reports that there is no evidence to suggest that stress alone causes coronary heart disease, it is thought it may contribute to the risk level by prompting women to drink more, smoke more and overeat. When you're a busy working mum, finding the time to relax and de-stress can seem impossible, but keeping anxiety under control, either by getting out and exercising or trying yoga or meditation classes, could help to maintain a healthy ticker.

Get checked
Many women dismiss possible symptoms or risk factors believing that they are simply too young to develop an issue. But if your lifestyle includes any of the above, or you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, it could pay to get checked out. It is advisable to get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly so that any changes can be flagged as a warning.

If you are worried that you may be at risk or have any questions related to heart disease in women, visit the British Heart Foundation's Woman's Room, where others share their own experiences, and experts are available to answer questions.

Have you suffered with heart problems? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...