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Women and heart disease

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Did you know that women are twice as likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer?

In the years following the menopause, your risk of getting heart disease rises significantly.

Follow these 10 simple steps to protect yourself.

Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked

If your blood pressure or cholesterol level is higher than it should be, this increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your doctor can suggest lifestyle changes or, if necessary, prescribe medication to reduce your high blood pressure or cholesterol.

If you're aged 40 to 74 and live in the UK, and don't already have a health condition such as diabetes, you're entitled to a free National Health Service (NHS) Health Check from your doctor to assess your risk of developing heart disease. This includes testing your blood pressure and checking your cholesterol level.

Stop smoking to protect your heart

You're twice as likely to have a heart attack if you smoke. Over the past few decades, men have increasingly quit smoking, but women haven't been stopping smoking as much.

Stopping smoking will lessen your chances of developing heart disease.

Find out how to stop smoking.

Do more exercise to prevent heart disease

Only about 1 in 4 women in England does enough physical activity to protect her heart. Try to do more exercise, including regular aerobic exercise such as walking and swimming.

To protect your heart, you need to do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as cycling or fast walking) every week.

Find out how to get more active.

Lose weight if you need to

About 6 in every 10 women in England are either overweight or obese.

Carrying excess weight puts a strain on your heart, and you're more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, all of which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The body mass index (BMI) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy – find out how to work out your BMI.

Read more about how to lose weight.

Watch your waist to reduce your risk of heart disease

Your shape matters as well as your weight. Measuring your waist is a good way to check you're not carrying too much fat around your stomach, which can raise your risk of heart disease.

Aim for a waistline of less than 80cm (31.5 inches).

Check your risk of diabetes

Women with type 2 diabetes are 3 to 5 times more likely to get heart disease than those without the condition.

Type 2 diabetes is linked to being overweight or obese and a waist measurement of 80cm (31.5 inches) or above.

Find out how to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Reduce alcohol to help your heart

It used to be thought that a moderate level of alcohol was good for the heart. However, the evidence of a protective effect is less strong than previously thought.

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, especially if you drink most weeks, the NHS recommends that women (and men) should drink no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. This should be spread over 3 or more days.

If you drink more than this, you'll increase your risk of heart disease. Too much alcohol, or binge-drinking (drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time), can damage the heart muscle, leading to abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) or heart failure.

Read more about alcohol units and how to cut down your drinking.

Balance your diet

Eat healthily and be especially careful not to eat more salt than is recommended (no more than 6g a day). Cut down on the amount of saturated fat and sugar you eat, too.

Read more about how to cut down on salt, saturated fat and sugar, and have a healthy, balanced diet.

Don't rely on HRT to avoid heart disease

Research suggests that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) isn’t heart protective. However, the latest evidence confirms that HRT doesn't increase the risk of heart disease when started in women aged under 60.

Read more about HRT.

Manage your stress

Some studies have suggested that stress can contribute to heart disease. If you feel under a lot of stress, it's important to learn how to manage it.

There are some simple techniques you can learn to help you cope with stress. If you feel so stressed and anxious that it's affecting your daily life, a GP can help you deal with it.

Read more about how to manage stress.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.