hearth health

Recent study reveals reproductive risk factors of heart disease and stroke for women

Dr. Lela Emad of the Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group talks about a new study while emphasizing that healthcare providers need to be vigilant about screening women for cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Lela Emad of the Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group talks about a new study while emphasizing that healthcare providers need to be vigilant about screening women for cardiovascular disease.

Research containing new data on risk factors for heart attack and stroke comes from a very large study of more than half a million men and women of up to the age of 69 who were recruited between 2006 and 2010. Ultimately the health of 267,440 women and 215,088 men was tracked over the course of the study, or until participants had their first heart attack or stroke, whichever came first. None of the participants had cardiovascular disease when they entered the study. From this, more than 9,000 cases of cardiovascular disease were recorded, a third of which were in women.

Highlights of the study found higher risk factors for women who experienced:

  • periods starting before age 12 (10% increased risk)
  • early menopause (33% increased risk of cardiovascular disease, 42% of stroke)
  • pregnancy complications (up to 44% higher risk depending on factor)
  • Hysterectomy (12% cardiovascular disease, heart disease 20%)

This study was large, and the researchers determined a range of potentially influential factors (see full results here).

“This study is particularly important for healthcare providers,” explains Dr. Lela Emad of the Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group of Santa Rosa. “Routine screening for cardiovascular issues is something we do for our patients and something we might be able to target better now, given this new information. This is something every healthcare provider needs to be aware of.”

Heart Disease: a serious health factor for women

The American Heart Association says cardiovascular diseases and stroke cause one out of three deaths in women every year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds. An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases. A whopping ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke and fewer women survive heart attacks then do men.

More than 5 million people in the United States suffer from heart failure, less than 50 percent of those with heart failure live a full five years following diagnosis. The deadly duo of heart disease and stroke are among the most prevalent and costly health complications today. Heart disease or stroke wreak havoc on people’s lives measured in increased medical bills, lost wages and decreased quality of living.

  • 5 million heart attacks and strokes occur every year in the United States
  • 800,000 deaths occur from heart disease each year, a total of 1 in every 3 deaths – about the same number as die from cancer, respiratory disease and accidents – combined
  • 150,000 of deaths from heart disease occur in people under age 65
  • $320 billion in health care costs and lost productivity were attributed to heart disease and stroke in 2011

The top five ways to manage heart disease include; controlling high blood pressure (with the help of a healthcare provider), a daily routine of physical activity (at least 20 minutes per day), eat whole foods (avoid processed alternatives), avoid excess salt and quit smoking.

“Fitness is a factor for women of all ages, and even more significant for those who have known risk factors for heart disease and stroke,” says Dr. Emad.  “Lifestyle changes such as exercising, dieting, quitting smoking and cutting back on caffeine are all examples of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy heart.”

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BMI determines risk of heart disease in middle-aged women

A woman’s race and where on her body she packs on pounds at midlife could give her doctor valuable clues to her likelihood of having greater volumes of heart fat, a potential risk factor for heart disease, according to new research.

BMI determines risk of heart disease in middle-aged women

A woman’s race and where on her body she packs on pounds at midlife could give her doctor valuable clues to her likelihood of having greater volumes of heart fat, a potential risk factor for heart disease, according to new research led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The findings, published online today in the journal Menopause, show that black women who put on fat around their midsection during midlife are more likely to accumulate fat around their hearts, whereas white women’s risk of fatty hearts is higher when they add weight all over. The results echo the findings of a Pitt Public Health study three years ago in men.

BMI determines risk of heart disease in middle-aged women

“Excess fat around the heart, in both men and women, is an evolving risk factor for heart disease. But how can clinicians see it at a regular physical? They can’t without a special heart scan,” said senior author Samar El Khoudary, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “This study, coupled with our previous study in men, gives doctors another tool to evaluate their patients and get a better sense of their heart disease risk. It also may lead to suggestions for lifestyle modifications to help patients lessen that risk.”

El Khoudary and her team evaluated clinical data, such as CT scans and blood pressure, on 524 women from Pittsburgh and Chicago enrolled in the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). The women were in varying stages of menopause, averaged 51 years old and were not on hormone replacement therapy.

The bottom line on BMI and heart disease

After accounting for the potential health effects of lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and financial strain, the researchers determined that, not surprisingly, the more fat a women carries overall, the higher her risk for a fatty heart.

However, white women with higher body mass indexes, or BMI, which is a measure of overall body fat, had significantly more heart fat, as measured by a CT scan, than black women with the same BMI. BMI determines risk of heart disease in middle-aged women

For black women, the levels of heart fat were greater if they carried more fat in their midsection, as measured by a cross-sectional CT scan, compared with white women with the same volume of fat in their midsection.

El Khoudary’s team found that the heart fat black women with larger waistlines accumulate is closer to their hearts than the fat the white women with higher BMI’s accumulate. Fat close to the heart secretes inflammatory markers directly to the heart tissue and produces a greater detrimental effect as it expands.

“We’ve now come to very similar conclusions that show excess abdominal fat is worse for both black men and women, and a higher BMI is worse for white men and women when it comes to their odds of having more fat around their hearts,” said El Khoudary, who noted that the current analysis could not assess changes over time. “There is something going on here that warrants further investigation to determine why it is happening and what tailored interventions doctors may prescribe to help their patients lower their risk.”


Story Source: Materials provided by University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Read this article on ScienceDaily: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. “Risk of a fatty heart linked to race, type of weight gain in middle-aged women.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 August 2017.


The Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group strives to better the lives of all women with a holistic approach to women’s health. Call for an appointment today: (707) 579-1102. Visit our website: www.womensobgynmed.com