#OurHearts Matter:: Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

February is American Heart Month. Though we tend to focus on the fun aspects of what our heart does – the romance of Valentine’s Day, candy and cards with your little ones, Galentine’s fun with your besties – this month also brings the reminder that heart health is important too! The American Heart Association’s #GoRedforWomen and the National Institutes for Health’s #OurHearts movements both highlight the sobering reality that heart disease is actually the number one killer in women, causing 1 out of every 3 deaths each year – or approximately one woman every minute! The good news is that there is so much we can do now to prevent or reduce our risks of developing serious heart disease in the future. Knowing that 90% of women have at least one risk factor (!!), here are my top 3 tips for some heart-focused self-care this month::

#OurHearts Matter:: Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

Know your risk factors for heart disease

Take stock of your genetics – does anyone in your family {siblings, parents, grandparents} have a history of heart disease, heart attack or stroke? If you’re not sure, now is a great time to chat with your parents and learn more about your family history. Looking at your own personal health history may provide some clues too. Some ethnic backgrounds seem to have higher genetic likelihood of dying from heart disease – as a South Asian American, I know I’m at risk – and so are African-American women. Other diagnoses, like high cholesterol or diabetes, as well as certain complications of pregnancy like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, hint at an elevated risk of future heart disease.

Stay up-to-date on your primary care

Ensuring that weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are all within range is an important first step. Establishing care with a true primary care provider is the key. Many obstetrician-gynecologists do not consider themselves primary care providers and may not complete all your health screenings, so it may be worth a discussion for you to understand whether or not you need a separate primary care doctor! Importantly, women with polycystic ovary syndrome – a common diagnosis that impacts 15% or more of women – are at elevated risk for diabetes and weight gain, and recommendations outline a more aggressive screening calendar. Though it’s easy to get behind on these visits, just remember – you wouldn’t ever skip pediatrician visits for your little ones, and your healthcare is just as important!

Check your lifestyle

Staying physically active, following a healthy diet that fits your metabolism and body, and avoiding smoking are all great choices that benefit your heart immensely. Getting structured exercise through a dedicated workout a few times a week is ideal, but running around and being active with your little ones during playtime can do the trick too! As for diet, modeling healthy choices like avoiding processed foods, limiting consumption of food or drinks with added sugar {including not just dessert, but also soda and juice}, and keeping serving sizes appropriate {watch out for those Texas-sized portions at restaurants!} helps you and also gives your kids a great headstart on living healthfully. 

So, this and every February, in between planning all your other festivities and celebrations of love and romance, make sure to take the time to honor your heart health by taking stock of your risk factors and lifestyle, and catching up on overdue doctors’ visits. The truest form of self-care is prioritizing your health, so make sure to carve out time for you!

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Rashmi Kudesia, MD MSc is a board-certified OB/GYN and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility specialist who is passionate about improving women's access to evidence-based, honest reproductive health information and care. Aside from her clinical practice seeing patients in Houston and Sugar Land, Rashmi frequently speaks at conferences and community events, and advocates for women's health via media interviews and social media. Originally a Midwesterner, she moved around the East Coast for school and training, including nearly a decade in NYC, where she met her husband, Ashish, a Houston native. After moving to Houston in 2018, she's continued searching for that perfect work-life balance as the family grew quickly, adding their first pup, Bowser {2018}, their first home, and now their first kiddo, Amara {2019}! Right now, she's learning the ropes of being a working mama, but still loves exploring Houston's amazing food scene, checking out the newest museum exhibits, or planning the family's next trip. She's always on the hunt for the city's best iced latte or glass of wine to be savored with a good book. Find her on Facebook and Instagram {@rkudesia}.


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