The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all women should undergo an annual “well-woman visit” with their OB-GYN to evaluate their reproductive health, assess disease risk factors and promote positive disease prevention practices. These visits typically cover a wide variety of topics, and they can be tailored to suit the unique health histories and concerns of each patient. Some women might want to discuss family planning with their OB-GYN, for example, while others might be more focused on setting diet and exercise goals for the coming year.
There are many benefits associated with well-woman visits, but their benefits to heart health are often overlooked.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women according to the CDC, but many women don’t know it. In fact, an estimated 45 percent of women are unaware that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S.
OB-GYNs are ideally suited to counsel patients on their heart disease risk factors, because many early indicators of heart disease in women are associated with pregnancy complications and hormonal changes.
Pre-eclampsia—a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure—is just one example of a heart disease risk factor that is specific to women. Other conditions such as gestational diabetes, low birth weight and premature delivery have been linked to an increased cardiovascular health risk as well.
Several conditions that affect women’s hormone levels, such as polycystic ovary syndrome and menopause, can also affect their cardiovascular health.
Primary care physicians tend to focus on traditional risk factors such as smoking and high cholesterol, but they may not identify sex-specific risk factors that an OB-GYN will be more likely to recognize. Furthermore, even traditional risk factors can affect men and women in different ways; smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol all tend to affect cardiovascular health in women to a greater extent than they do in men.
The good news is, many heart disease risk factors can be managed and mitigated when they’re identified early on.
If your OB-GYN determines you have an elevated risk for heart disease, they may be able to suggest lifestyle changes you can make to promote good cardiovascular health and manage your risk factors. In some cases, they may also refer you to a cardiovascular specialist who can monitor your heart health and prescribe medication if necessary.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the early detection of risk factors is key for preventing heart disease.
To schedule your next well-woman visit with the caring physicians at South Avenue Women’s Services, give us a call or contact us online today.