On the occasion of World Heart Day, cardiologist Emmanuelle Berthelot shares her advice for women to protect their cardiovascular health.
In terms of women’s health, there are still prejudices to be combated. “It’s not breast cancer that kills women, it’s infarction”, insists to illustrate it, Emmanuelle Berthelot, cardiologist and author of 3 billion beats, the secrets of our heart (1). Today, in the world, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death among women. They kill eight times more than breast cancer. More sensitive than men to cardiovascular risks, women must pay particular attention to the good health of their heart. On the occasion of World Heart Day this Thursday, September 29, the cardiologist delivers the few simple habits to adopt on a daily basis, to considerably reduce the risk and live longer.
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Madame Figaro.-The increase in cardiovascular diseases among women has made women’s cardiovascular risk a subject of great vigilance. How can this state of affairs be explained?
Emmanuelle Berthelot.- Women’s lifestyles have changed for several decades, and if they share the same risk factors as men – smoking, overweight, physical inactivity, diabetes, hypertension… – they are on the other hand much more prone to them. We therefore find ourselves with an increasing incidence of diseases such as infarction, stroke, heart failure. Moreover, recent epidemiological studies have shown that doctors had long thought that women were protected from cardiovascular disease by their hormones (estrogen and progesterone have a natural protective effect, editor’s note), leading to a delay in diagnosis and management.
Why are women more sensitive to cardiovascular risks?
We noticed that their vascular wall is more fragile than that of humans and they also tend to have more inflammation in the blood. Thus, for the same exposure rate, women will have more of a chance of having a cardiovascular event. They are also weakened by three periods of their life. When they are young, because the contraceptive pill increases the cardiovascular risk. During pregnancy, because the amount of blood in the body increases, so the heart works harder, it has to pump harder. Finally, during menopause, when the woman is no longer protected by her hormones and is more exposed to risk factors due to her age.
According to the WHO, most cardio-neurovascular diseases are linked to our way of life. What exactly harms us?
Sedentary lifestyle first, aggravated by the Covid epidemic, then obesity, diabetes (genetic but also generated by a diet too rich in sugar) and hypertension, favored by overweight, sedentary lifestyle and diet too salty. Tobacco, of course, is a very strong risk factor. By creating inflammation in the blood and arteries, it breaks down arterial tissue and forms blood clots. Age also harms us; From the age of 50, the cardiovascular risk increases. Finally, stress, chronic in particular, is very harmful. Epidemiological studies have also shown that women were more sensitive to it and that they were more stressed than men.
By moving, we considerably reduce all the cardiovascular risk factors, and we increase our lifespan.
Dr Emmanuelle Berthelot, cardiologist
How to protect yourself on a daily basis?
By quitting smoking, undeniably, then by moving. Sport is an internal cleanser, it fights inflammation and gets the blood flowing. Every day, you should therefore perform 30 minutes of light physical activity, such as walking or cycling. At the same time, during the week or at the weekend, two sessions of more intense physical activity, lasting 30 to 45 minutes, can be carried out. In doing so, we reduce the rate of cancer, we fight against stress, obesity… We therefore considerably reduce all the cardiovascular risk factors, and we increase our lifespan. You have to understand that not moving every day is tantamount to neglecting yourself; it’s a bit like not taking a shower every day.
What about diet and stress levels?
On the plate, it’s very simple: we eliminate overly salty processed products, we cook and eat fresh products (and organic if we can afford it) every day. We also take care not to add salt, not to eat too much sugar, to limit our consumption of bread and to use “normal” quantities. Finally, we limit our meat consumption to twice a week, we eat fish once or twice and we find proteins in other sources. For the stressed, sport and cardiac coherence are essential to calm down. These breathing exercises (to be practiced when desired) relax the autonomic nervous system; they act directly on the influx of stress. I recommend the RespiRelax app or just YouTube videos. Finally, we make sure to respect our sleep by sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night and taking naps during the weekend if necessary.
Can we rectify the situation at any age?
Yes, without a doubt. The cardiovascular risk increases very sharply from the age of 50-55, so all the efforts put in place at this age only represent a benefit for better aging afterwards. At this age, I recommend having a check-up with his doctor. If you have risk factors you can do a blood test, a stress test, an ultrasound with a cardiologist. Then we put all these good habits in place.
The risk increases very sharply from the age of 50-55, all the efforts put in place at this age only represent a benefit for better aging afterwards.
Dr Emmanuelle Berthelot, cardiologist
What are the warning symptoms to be aware of and which can indicate a heart problem?
There are four, which can affect everyone and at any age. First a pain in the chest, very stressful, which does not pass and radiates to the shoulders, the jaws and the epigastric hollow. It is a symptom of the infarction. Then, shortness of breath, an impossibility to catch your breath after having done 200 meters or after having climbed a hill, climb without difficulty usually, for example. Then, discomfort, fainting and finally palpitations, an irregular heart. We are concerned when they are associated with discomfort or when they are prolonged.
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(1) 3 billion beats. The secrets of our heartby Dr Emmanuelle Berthelot, (Editions du Rocher), 19.90 euros.