Who is at risk?
The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to get heart disease. But women of all ages should be concerned about heart disease and take steps to prevent it.
Both men and women have heart attacks, but more women who have heart attacks die from them. Treatments can limit heart damage but they must be given as soon as possible after a heart attack starts. Ideally, treatment should start within one hour of the first symptoms. Factors that increase risk include:
- Family history (If your dad or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mom or sister had one before age 65, you're more likely to develop heart disease.)
- Lack of physical activity
- High blood pressure
- Being African American and Hispanic American/Latina
The role of high blood pressure
Blood pressure is the force your blood makes against the walls of your arteries. The pressure is highest when your heart pumps blood into your arteries—when it beats. It is lowest between heartbeats, when your heart relaxes. A doctor or nurse will record your blood pressure as the higher number over the lower number. A blood pressure reading below 120/80 is usually considered normal. Very low blood pressure (lower than 90/60) can sometimes be a cause of concern and should be checked out by a doctor.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a blood pressure reading of 140/90 or higher. Years of high blood pressure can damage artery walls, causing them to become stiff and narrow. This includes the arteries carrying blood to the heart. As a result, your heart cannot get the blood it needs to work well. This can cause a heart attack.
A blood pressure reading of 120/80 to 139/89 is considered pre-hypertension. This means that you don't have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future.