Heart disease isn't a gender-neutral condition. Although many of the risk factors are the same in women and men—including high cholesterol, inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking—heart disease can develop differently in women than men, cause different symptoms, and have a different impact on long-term health. The January 2010 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch outlines 10 things women should know about heart risks and how to manage them. Here's a sample:
Cholesterol. A low level of "good" HDL cholesterol—below 50 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)—is a bigger problem for women than elevated "bad" LDL cholesterol. In fact, the total cholesterol level is less important than the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. For women, the optimal ratio is less than 3.2.High triglycerides (over 150 mg/dL) also pose a bigger heart risk for women than men.
Inflammation. Evidence that inflammation plays a role in the formation of artery blockages has put a spotlight on C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance the body produces in response to inflammation. Now there's a test for blood vessel inflammation called high-sensitivity CRP, or hsCRP. The Women's Health Study found that women with high hsCRP results were about twice as likely as those with high LDL cholesterol to die from a heart attack or stroke. As a result of such findings, the hsCRP test is now often used to estimate the likelihood of a heart attack.
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