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Modifiable Risk Factors for Women 1

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Modifiable Risk Factors for Women

Women need to be aware of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and the importance of making lifestyle changes that may reduce those risks. Factors such as race, increasing age, and a family history of heart disease cannot be changed. Other risk factors, however, can be changed or eliminated by making informed decisions about cardiovascular health.

Smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Although the overall number of adult smokers has decreased in this country during the last 20 years, the number of teenaged girls who smoke has increased. Cigarette smoking combined with the use of birth control pills greatly increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. The good news is that no matter how long or how much someone has smoked, smokers can immediately reduce their risk of heart attack by quitting. After 1 year of not smoking, the excess risk of heart disease created by smoking is reduced 80%; after 7 years of not smoking, all the risk from smoking is gone. It is never too late to stop smoking.

High blood pressure, or hypertension is a silent disease.

If left untreated, it makes the heart work harder, speeds up hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. Women who have a history of high blood pressure, black women with high blood pressure, and overweight women with high blood pressure are also at greater risk. Although high blood pressure cannot be cured, it can be controlled with diet, exercise, and, if necessary, medicines. High blood pressure is a lifelong risk and requires effective long-term management, including regular blood pressure checks and the appropriate medicines.

Pregnancy may trigger high blood pressure, especially during the third trimester, but high blood pressure caused by pregnancy usually goes away after childbirth. This is called pregnancy-induced hypertension. Another form of high blood pressure that can occur during pregnancy is called preeclampsia, and it is usually accompanied by swelling and increased protein in the urine. Women with a history of preeclampsia face double the risk of stroke, heart disease and dangerous clotting in their veins during the 5 to 15 years after pregnancy.

 

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