LAS VEGAS, NV — According to the CDC, one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. Heart disease also happens to be the number one killer of women—accounting for one in every four deaths.

Heart disease refers to a variety of conditions and events that affect the heart including but not limited to; heart attack, coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmia), stroke and heart failure. Warning signs of heart disease are not always the same for women as they are for men, so understanding the signs is key.

Although it is common during a heart attack for most to experience chest pain and pressure, some women can experience a cardiac event without those symptoms. Women are in fact more likely than men to have nausea or flu-like symptoms, low back pain, discomfort in the neck jaw or arms, fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath and even vomiting during a heart attack.

Smoking and a strong family history can put you at risk for heart disease as well, but it’s important to understand all lifestyle choices and habits. Ronny Jiji, MD, FACC, board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease and adult congenital heart disease and Anthony P. Dota, III, MD, board-certified in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology at Las Vegas Heart Associates weigh in on lifestyle triggers that can increase a woman’s risk for heart disease and what can be done for better health.

Smoking Cessation — It is important to quit smoking to protect and improve your health. According to the CDC, when you quit smoking completely you can reduce your risk for heart disease immediately. “There are many resources available for patients to help them quit,” said Dr. Dota. “It’s important to discuss with your physician or healthcare provider the options that are available to you,” Dr. Dota says.

Limit stress — Chronic or constant stress and traumatic events such as death of a loved one, a car accident or stress from work may cause damage to your arteries and promote the buildup of plaque deposits over time as well as worsen other risk factors for heart disease. “Studies show that high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure,” said Dr. Jiji. “All of these risk factors are known causes of many known cardiac events such as a heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Jiji says. To reduce the effect of stress, try meditation, deep breathing exercises or yoga to relax your body and mind at least a few minutes a day. “Exercise is also a very heart healthy way to cope with stress and something I advise my patients to do,” said Dr. Jiji.

Yo-yo Dieting — Repeatedly losing and gaining weight, weight cycling or yo-yo dieting, can be detrimental for your heart down the road.

A study completed and presented in 2016 at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions looked at weight history that was self-reported for more than 158,000 post-menopausal women. The women were grouped into several categories: stable weight, steady gain, maintained weight loss or weight cycling. The findings were especially eye opening. Those of normal weight who lost and regained weight during the study period had a 3.5 times higher risk of cardiac death than women whose weight remained the same.

Keeping a balanced and consistent diet is key in managing your risk for heart disease. Diets high in saturated fat, trans-fat and sodium can increase anyone’s risk of heart disease and can cause cholesterol to build up in your arteries. “If you eat meat, reach for lean meats like turkey and chicken rather than overly fatty, processed meats like sausage and bacon,” said Dr. Dota. “Plant-based proteins like tofu, beans and nuts are good options, too and I advise my patients to eat a diet incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains versus processed foods,” said Dr. Dota.

Obesity — According to the Framingham Heart Study, obesity’s impact on the development of coronary artery disease (CAD) affects women far greater than men. The study showed an increased risk of coronary artery disease by 64% in women, compared to 46% in men.

Increased body weight can cause high blood pressure and is also linked to high cholesterol specifically affecting your HDL or “good” cholesterol with lower than optimal values. “You want the “good” cholesterol numbers higher as HDL cholesterol plays an important role in reducing your risk for heart disease,” said Dr. Jiji. “Obesity certainly plays a role in increasing your risk of heart attack, stroke and even sudden cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Jiji.

For women, if your BMI is over 30, it is considered obese and you may be increasing your risk on a number of heart diseases and conditions. It is important to be aware of your body mass index (BMI) and measure it at least once a year. Speak to your healthcare provider about lifestyle changes that you can do as well as weight loss support. It is important to take in fewer calories and develop healthy exercise habits.

Regular Exercise — Regular exercise is paramount in keeping your heart strong. Exercise can help manage weight, boost energy levels, improve sleep and manage stress. “Exercise has also been proven to help with blood circulation, cholesterol levels and managing high blood pressure which can reduce your risk of stroke,” said Dr. Dota. “For women, exercise can also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 30 to 40 percent,” said Dr. Dota. Walking, jogging, biking and swimming are great aerobic options for many starting out with an exercise plan. It’s also important to include resistance training which can include using your own body weight, resistance bands or weights.

“Moving your body for at least 30 minutes a day has tremendous health benefits and can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Exercise can strengthen not only your muscles and bones but also keeps your heart and lungs performing optimally,” Dr. Dota says.

Before you start any new exercise routine, it’s important to speak with your doctor to get clearance.

Screenings — For those individuals with a family history of heart disease, they should be vigilant and make sure they speak to their doctor about any risk factors and suggested screenings. “I advise my patients that if they do have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, the sooner we can get it under control, the less likely you are to have a serious heart event,” said Dr. Jiji.

The recommendations according to the American Heart Association includes getting blood pressure screenings at least every two years if your levels are below 120/80 mm Hg. For individuals with higher levels, they may need more frequent screenings. Every four to six years, you should also receive a fasting lipoprotein profile, a measurement of your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. And starting at age 45, be sure to have your blood glucose checked every three years, or more frequently if you’re at elevated risk.

It’s important to keep a balanced and heart healthy lifestyle in mind and not focus on any one aspect but the big picture as a whole.“Make sure that you are eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels and most importantly, quit smoking,” said Dr. Jiji.

Both Dr. Dota and Dr. Jiji are accepting new patients. Both are seeing patients at the 2880 N. Tenaya Way, Suite 100 location on the campus of MountainView Hospital. Find out more information about Las Vegas Heart Associates.