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4 gender-specific conditions that heighten a woman's risk of heart disease

High blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity are all risk factors for heart disease. But there are some gender-specific health conditions that can heighten a woman’s risk.  Jyoti Sharma, M.D., a cardiologist at Piedmont Heart Institute, shares four conditions that increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease.

1. Polycystic ovarian syndrome. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women of child-bearing age. Women with this condition have high levels of male hormones, which causes abnormal periods, ovarian cysts and infertility.

“Women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome are also more likely to have diabetes and high blood pressure, which sets them up for much higher rates of heart disease,” Dr. Sharma says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of heart disease can be four to seven times higher in women who have PCOS compared to women without the condition.

2.  Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.  Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are two autoimmune diseases that are more common in women than they are in men.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue and sometimes internal organs. According to the Arthritis Foundation, people with rheumatoid arthritis have up to twice the risk of heart disease and heart failure as the general population.

Lupus is a chronic disorder that occurs when the body starts fighting against its own cells, causing inflammation, pain and swelling. It can affect any part of the body, from the skin to the heart. The Lupus Foundation of America reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death among people with lupus.

In both conditions, the heightened risk is attributed to inflammation.

3. Preeclampsia/Eclampsia. Preeclampsia and eclampsia are pregnancy complication often characterized by a sudden rise in blood pressure and protein in the urine. Though the symptoms go away after delivery, some studies have shown that the damage to the body can have long lasting effects.

“Women who develop pre-eclampsia or eclampsia during pregnancy have a much higher risk of having high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, even 20 years after pregnancy,” Dr. Sharma says.

4. Menopause. Menopause is the point in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 50 years old and can be marked by hot flashes, vaginal dryness and sleep disturbances. The drop in estrogen levels also signals can also increase in the risk for heart disease.

“Women that go through menopause earlier in life tend to have higher rates of cardiovascular disease than women who have periods later on in life,” Dr. Sharma says.

Staying heart healthy

“Many of the conversations regarding these conditions are taking place at a primary care office,” Dr. Sharma says. “So it’s important for your doctor to create a risk factor profile to monitor your risk for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is 80 percent preventable. The earlier your doctor detects health risks, the more options a woman will have as far as treatment.”

To schedule an appointment with a doctor near you, click here.

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