6 Heart Health Mistakes Women Make

Despite the fact that heart disease is a leading cause of death for women, there’s still a common misperception that it’s “a guy thing.” Women fear breast cancer more, even though they’re eight times more likely to die of heart disease. “The message is getting out more, but women still need help understanding all their risk factors,” says Pamela Ouyang, M.B.B.S., director of the Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

See which, if any, of these heart health mistakes women often make apply to you.

Believing You’ll “Know” When You Need to Get Your Blood Pressure Checked

It’s great to be in tune with your body, but that approach alone has its limits. “Women often tell me, ‘I got dizzy, so I knew my blood pressure was high.’ You won’t know when you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol — these are silent conditions,” Ouyang says.

How to proceed

Get your blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar measured regularly by your doctor. They can flag your risk for future heart trouble.

Installing an Exercise Bike in the Home

By itself, having a bike or treadmill is great. Trouble is, you have to use it often, and that’s where many women go wrong. They decide to embark on a new exercise program that’s not fun, natural or convenient — and so, after an initial push, they slack off.

How to proceed

Pick an activity that’s fun for you so you’ll want to do it often, like walking around the mall.

Smoking to Keep Weight Down

Keeping your weight in the normal range is great for your heart, but using cigarettes for weight control snuffs out those good effects. That’s because smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.

How to proceed

Control your weight with diet and exercise.

Not Knowing the Warning Signs of Heart Trouble for You

Heart attack can present differently in women than it does in men. Expecting a chest-crushing episode, women ignore other danger signs.

How to proceed

If you notice nausea, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing or other bothersome symptoms that are unusual for you, it’s important to consult with your doctor.

Avoiding Hormone Replacement Therapy at Menopause Because It’s Bad for the Heart

Some women suffer unnecessarily through intense hot flashes and sleep disturbances. While it’s no longer believed that hormone replacement therapy can protect the heart at menopause, that doesn’t mean you need to avoid it. “For most women in their 50s, the established cardiovascular risk is low, and it’s safe to take hormones,” Ouyang says.

How to proceed

If you need to, take hormones for menopausal symptom relief. Try a prescription at the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time you can.

Thinking Certain Health Problems of Pregnancy Ended with Your Child’s Birth

Your baby may no longer be inside you, but your heart, arteries and other organs still are. If you have gestational diabetes or a hypertensive issue in pregnancy, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia, your risk for heart problems is much greater later in life," Ouyang says.

How to proceed

Always inform a new doctor of your full health history so he or she has the information necessary to consider your individual needs.