Women with Risk Factors for Heart Disease Need to Start a Prevention Plan Before Menopause

Women with risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history, should start a dialogue with their primary care physician in their 40s so they can begin a prevention regimen that will keep them healthy.

“Many people ignore the signs of heart disease in women under 50 since women have such a low prevalence of the disease until menopause,” said John Sunew, M.D., a cardiologist affiliated with Houston Methodist West Hospital. “Women with risk factors should be taking preventative steps in their 40s, but unfortunately too many wait until later in life, when the risk is higher.”

Sunew says it’s critical for women to talk to their doctors about a family history, especially if a family member died of the disease at a young age. They should also have their blood pressure and cholesterol monitored regularly, develop an exercise and nutrition plan, and, if they are a smoker, stop smoking.

Heart problems in women are often not as recognizable as they are in men. Symptoms for women can include:

  • Extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath.
  • Discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm, below the breastbone or in the middle of the back.
  • Sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness.
  • Fullness, indigestion, a tightness in the throat area.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats.

“Heart disease is not just a man’s disease,” Sunew says. “If a woman can get ahead of the disease, she gives herself a much better chance of beating it.”

For more on Houston Methodist West Hospital, call 832-522-5522 or visit houstonmethodist.org/west.