Heart Disease Risk Factors for Women

kate_groh_2016_printHeart disease appears differently in everyone, and women often set warning signs aside. Dr. Kate (Groh) Holtze, a non-invasive cardiologist at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, discusses signs and symptoms of heart disease in women. Watch Dr. Holtze’s interview with health reporter Lila Lazarus to learn more about women’s heart health.

        1. Is heart disease something only older women should worry about?
          No, coronary artery disease is something that starts early in life. The lifestyle choices that we make in our teens, 20s and 30s affect our risk of developing coronary artery disease later in life. Coronary artery disease is something that develops over decades. However, statistically, the risk of a woman in her 20s, 30s, or even 40s having a heart attack remains rather low.


  • What can women do to reduce their risk of heart disease?
    The most important thing is lifestyle: diet, exercise, no smoking; a sensible, predominantly plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet; 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days of the week; maintaining a healthy weight and getting restful sleep all benefit heart health.



  • Why is smoking bad for your heart?
    Smoking damages blood vessels and makes you far more likely to have coronary artery disease and heart attacks.



  • How does mental stress and depression affect the heart?
    We know that there is an association between stress, depression and coronary artery disease.  There is some evidence to suggest that people under constant stress have higher inflammatory markers, and we know that chronic inflammation can play a role in the development of atherosclerosis. In addition, people who are stressed or depressed are more likely to have poor lifestyle habits: overeating, weight gain, lack of exercise, smoking, etc.



  • What type of pregnancy complications come into play with the heart?
    We know that women who have experienced preeclampsia during pregnancy have a 2x increased risk of cardiovascular problems later in life, compared to similar women who did not have preeclampsia. These problems include coronary artery disease, hypertension, heart failure and strokes.  Similarly, I think of gestational hypertension or gestational diabetes as warning signs that a woman might be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.



  • What does menopause do to a women’s heart health?
    Menopause does not cause heart disease.  However, we know that a woman’s risk of coronary artery disease increases after menopause.  In part, this is because the risk of coronary artery disease increases as we get older.  In addition, women can often see an increase in weight, cholesterol and blood pressure after menopause.  This can be made worse by being inactive and not exercising.  We also think that estrogen has a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels.  However, studies have failed to show a cardiovascular benefit of hormone replacement therapy.


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