You Probably Had No Idea This 1 Thing Increases Your Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both women and men in the United States. An estimated 289,758 women died as a result of the disease in 2013 alone. While there are plenty of risk factors you can control to decrease your risk, like fitness and weight loss, there are also many you can’t. Recent research suggests one factor you never thought might damage your heart (check out page 5).

Are you at an increased risk of this deadly health condition compared to the women around you? Here’s what you need to know.

What causes heart disease?

young african american businesswoman having heart attack or chest pain

Watch out for suspicious chest pains. | iStock.com/michaeljung

There are many different types of heart disease, and therefore many reasons it might happen to you. The most common form involves damage to your heart muscle because of plaque buildup in your arteries. This is the kind of damage that physical fitness and weight loss can help prevent.

Next: You could have it without even knowing.

What are its symptoms?

Middle-aged businessman suffering chest pains

Men typically feel chest pain. | iStock.com/mheim3011

Men and women often experience different symptoms. While men might have mainly chest pain, women sometimes suffer from nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Back and jaw pain sometimes occur as well. Because many women aren’t diagnosed until after they’ve had a heart attack, keep these signs in mind.

Next: Here’s everything you need to know about its risks.

Is heart disease a death sentence?

Hospital nurse helps a senior woman breath through an oxygen mask

What are your chances if you develop heart disease? | lisafx/ Getty Images

People are living longer with heart disease than they used to, especially older adults. While this condition can develop into heart failure — which has a much higher fatality rate — it’s possible to live with it and still lead a relatively normal life.

Next: Are you in danger of a damaged heart?

Who is at risk?

two glass cocktail, in low light inside a pub background

Too much drinking does nothing to help your chances. | iStock.com/CIPhotos

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who abuse alcohol, don’t exercise, and don’t lose weight when they need to are more likely to suffer from heart disease. Unfortunately, these and other factors also increase your risk for another problem that could indirectly affect your heart health.

Next: Hormonal changes happen with age — but it shouldn’t happen too soon.

Early menopause also increases a woman’s heart disease risk

Yoga posture

If you start menopause early, that might be a bad sign. | natalie_board/ Getty Images

Recent research found that participants who went through menopause before the age of 47 had a 33% higher risk of developing heart disease. In addition, their risk of stroke — which leads to blockage in the brain as the result of a blood clot — also increased.

Beginning menopause between the ages of 40 and 45 also increases a woman’s risk of developing osteoporosis due to low estrogen levels.

Next: So it’s dangerous — but can it be prevented?

What causes early menopause?

Thoughtful and nervous woman waiting for the interviewer during a job interview in a desk at office

There are several reasons some women start menopause early. | AntonioGuillem/Getty Images

Early menopause can result from factors both in and outside of your control. You can’t avoid it altogether, but there might be a few things you can do to keep it from happening too soon.

Genetics and autoimmune diseases like hypothyroidism can trigger premature hormonal changes — there isn’t anything you can do about that. However, you can do something about your weight, your smoking habit, or your lack of exercise — all lifestyle factors that can really mess with your hormones as you age.

Next: Do you know what menopause looks like?

These are the menopause symptoms to watch out for

Image of beautiful young woman sitting on toilet.

Be mindful of what your body is telling you. | iStock.com/vadimguzhva

Regardless of your age, it’s important to know the telltale signs your body is about to go through major changes. Shorter or more irregular periods might be the most obvious, but that’s not all. Some women experience increased bladder infections, worsening PMS symptoms, and low sex drive.

Next: This is the most important thing you can do to protect your heart.

How else can you decrease your heart disease risk?

they are the best friends

Get out and exercise! | BilevichOlga/iStock/Getty Images

Improving your health overall lowers your risk for more than just heart disease. However, if you can protect your heart, you’re (literally) in good shape.

This requires a combination of commitments — everything from eating more heart-healthy foods to taking longer walks with your dog, friends, and family. A healthier lifestyle doesn’t mean you’ll stay young in age, but just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean it has to feel like it.

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