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There is a positive aspect to heart and cardiovascular disease–it is often preventable. Most of the risk factors are easily changed or avoided to promote a heart-healthy lifestyle. Even if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, you can avoid some of the major risk factors and significantly reduce your personal risk.

The most common preventable risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease include:

  • Smoking – Approximately 21.2 million women smoke.
  • Diabetes – Nearly 7 million women have been diagnosed with diabetes and another 3 million remain undiagnosed.
  • High blood pressure – 33 percent of women have hypertension.
  • High cholesterol – About 56.5 million women have high total cholesterol.
  • Physical Inactivity – More women than men are physically inactive, with 41 percent of women engaging in no leisure-time physical activity and more than 60 percent of women do not meet the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderately intense physical activity, such as brisk walking.
  • Overweight and Obesity – 62 percent of women are overweight, including about 33 percent who are obese.*

* According to the National Institutes of Health's The Heart Truth

Hormone therapy is speculated to be a possible risk factor associated with cardiovascular disease. The birth control pill has also been associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. However, the new low-dose pills have made that risk negligible. Smoking while taking the birth control pill, especially after the age of 35, puts you at a high risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke.

Some risk factors you can't prevent. The unpreventable risk factors include:

  • Age – Your risk for cardiovascular disease increases as you age and is amplified after menopause with a reduction in the hormone estrogen.
  • Family history – If you have a family history of heart disease in any form, you may be at a greater risk for developing heart disease yourself.

Diabetes and Heart Disease
Type 2 Diabetes is becoming more and more widespread among American women. This is not the type of diabetes that you are born with, but the type that you create with a lifestyle of obesity, physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet. People that have been diagnosed with diabetes are, as a rule, more likely to suffer from heart disease. In fact, two out of every three people who are diagnosed with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke (according to the American Diabetes Association). That's because when you have diabetes, your blood sugar level is much higher than it should be. And too much sugar in your blood may cause damage to your blood vessels and other areas of your body.

Diabetes means that your body does not produce enough insulin or ignores the insulin in your blood. Insulin is important because it takes up all of the sugar in your blood and transports it to your cells. Lack of insulin or insulin resistance causes your cells to be starved for energy. Over time, it can damage your heart, kidneys and nerves.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you will need to practice proper management of your disease in order to keep your risk for developing heart disease in check. You will need to speak with your physician about a plan for you to make serious lifestyle changes. You will need to make more healthful choices in your diet, exercise more, and manage stress in your life. By keeping your general health under control, you will significantly reduce the risk for complications from diabetes, including heart disease. It's important to act as soon as you are diagnosed, and not to put your healthy lifestyle changes off until it's too late. Even though being diagnosed with diabetes is scary, it is not a life sentence. Women all over the country live healthy and long lives with diabetes, once they get their disease under control.

Click below to read about related topics.

A Healthy Heart
Cardiovascular Disease
Understanding the Risks
Interpreting the Numbers
Steps You Can Take Today
On the Road to a Healthy Heart