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A OB/GYN is already your go-to expert for reproductive health, but did you know annual well woman exams are a great opportunity to talk about your heart health?
That’s the key takeaway from a 2018 statement by the American Heart Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Because they are many women’s primary care doctors, OB-GYNs are in a unique position to advise their patients on preventing heart disease.
About nine in 10 women have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke, so almost anyone can benefit from talking about heart health. Even if you’re a young woman, the decisions and habits you make now can protect your heart health long into the future.
Pregnancy and menopause, in particular, can have echoes on a woman’s heart that are heard decades later. Talking about heart health during and before these milestones can help you live a long and independent life.
Heart Health Is Women’s Health
A 2017 study found that 45 percent of women didn’t know this basic fact: Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women. That means it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.
And there are several ways that heart health and reproductive health may be linked:
- Some pregnancy problems increase a woman’s risk for later cardiovascular disease. Examples include preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, which doubles a woman’s risk of heart disease later in life.
- Certain health conditions that are more common in women also raise heart health risks, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
- Some risk factors for heart disease (like smoking, obesity and depression) have a bigger impact on women’s risk than on men’s.
On that last point, take high blood pressure as an example. Over time, this condition can damage the inner walls of your arteries, making it easier for fats from your food to stick to the artery wall. If an artery becomes fully blocked, a heart attack can happen.
Only 29 percent of women over 65 have their blood pressure under control, compared with 41 percent of men.
These risks can also be reframed as opportunities. The most common risk factor for women is a lack of physical exercise. But one large study found that exercise protected the heart more for women than it did for men.
Have a Heart-to-Heart
It can be tough to know how to get the conversation started. These are some questions you may want to ask at your annual OB-GYN checkup:
- Are my blood pressure and cholesterol numbers on target?
- What goals should I set for physical activity and healthy eating?
- Where can I find help with losing weight or quitting smoking?
It’s never too early to start showing your heart some love.
Challenge Yourself to Be Healthy
Join the #GoRedGetFit Facebook group, run by the American Heart Association, to take part in fun health and fitness challenges.
And consider scheduling a well woman visit if you haven’t already. AdventHealth for Women makes the connections among your heart, your mind and your spirit. We believe in empowering women to make the choices that put them in control of their own health.