Heart disease / 27 Nov, 2019

What Singaporean women should know about heart disease and stroke

Dr Lau Pik Onn

Heart disease and stroke (cardiovascular disease) is the leading cause of death among women in Singapore, but many women are still unaware of this ‘silent killer’.

In 2009, less than 10 % of the women who took part in the Singapore Heart Foundation’s Go Red for Women Heart Health Awareness survey were aware of this important fact.

It is common knowledge that high cholesterol levels contribute significantly to heart disease. The risk for heart disease in women is lower than men during their childbearing years but rises sharply after menopause. This is due to the loss of oestrogen protection, as oestrogen lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) while raising HDL (good cholesterol).

When women enter menopause and oestrogen levels decline, this leads to an increase in levels of ‘bad cholesterol/LDL’. Hence, postmenopausal women then face similar risks of cardiovascular disease compared to men of the same age.

High cholesterol is only one of the many risk factors of cardiovascular disease.

Symptoms of a heart attack

For both men and women, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort, described as a tight or heavy feeling on the chest.

According to a 2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women are more likely than men to have heart attacks that present without chest pains, and they are more likely to die of a heart attack than men.

Other signs of a heart attack that women experience include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling faint
  • Nausea
  • Breaking out in cold sweat
  • Pain in the arms, back, neck or jaw

What are the risk factors for heart attack or stroke?

Risk factors for heart attack or stroke include:

  • Age – women over 50 years of age and menopausal women have a significantly higher risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High total cholesterol (>200mg/dL) and low HDL cholesterol (<40mg/dL)
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption (more than two drinks of alcohol almost every day)

How to reduce the risk?

Eat healthily

  • Avoid consuming food with saturated fat.
  • Reduce consumption of animal fat (such as ghee, butter and cream) and processed foods (such as cookies and cakes).
  • Eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Exercise to help reduce bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol

  • Do exercises of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking and swimming, at least 20 to 30 minutes per day, five times a week.

Lose weight

  • Unwanted weight gain is a common symptom in women after menopause. Losing as little as five to ten percent of your body weight if you are overweight can lead to an improvement in cholesterol levels.

Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly

  • If you are over 50, have high cholesterol levels or other risk factors, it’s important to consult your doctor.
  • Some women may be unable to bring their cholesterol levels down despite lifestyle changes and medications may then be prescribed.

Stop smoking

  • Smoking increases the risk of heart attack by two to three times, as it causes more plaque to form in the arteries.

Reduce your alcohol intake

  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption (more than two drinks of alcohol almost every day)

Control your diabetes

 

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