woman holds her heart in meditation
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Connective Matters: About your Heart

Connective Matters is a series that focuses on your body’s overall function, how it works together, and the preventative measures you can take to manage your health proactively.

Your mental and physical health is a series of connections working together to keep you going. At the center of it is our heart. Maintaining your heart health is crucial to your wellbeing. Understanding how the heart functions, its role and the risk factors you may face are key to getting on the path toward keeping it as healthy as possible.

How your heart works with the rest of your body

The heart is a muscle that plays a vital role in the body by pumping blood throughout the circulatory system. It works to supply oxygen and nutrients to other organs and remove carbon dioxide and other waste from your body. The heart works in connection with the rest of the body through the circulatory system. It operates in a coordinated effort with the lungs (pulmonary circulation) to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen and with the rest of the body (systemic circulation) to deliver oxygen-rich blood.

Our heartbeat the heart’s rhythmic contractions, regulated by electrical impulses, ensure continuous blood flow, supporting bodily functions and maintaining stable function in the overall body. The heart speeds up in response to movement, physical activity and hormone signals to meet the demands of your body.

Heart health’s connection to family history

Family history can significantly impact heart health. Genetic predisposition can increase the risk of many cardiovascular diseases, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and congenital heart defects. 

Genetics also have a role in terms of high cholesterol and increasing your risk of developing diabetes- both of which are risk factors for heart disease. While you can’t change your genetics, awareness of your family history can guide preventive measures, lifestyle choices, and early screenings to mitigate these risks.

Cardiovascular health and its unique effects on women

Cardiovascular health can affect women uniquely due to several factors. Women may experience different heart attack symptoms than men, such as nausea, dizziness, and back or jaw pain. Also, pregnancy, reproductive conditions, mental health and hormonal factors increase the risk of heart disease among women.

Reproductive health and the heart

In many ways, pregnancy is like a stress test for the heart, as many signs of heart disease show up during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, including:

  • Preeclampsia greatly raises the risk of developing hypertension and/or diabetes later in life. It also raises the risk of a stroke.
  • gestational diabetes diagnosis raises the lifetime risk of developing diabetes. About 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes.

Certain conditions and hormonal fluctuations can also impact women’s heart health.

  • People with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may develop diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea, all risks that can contribute to heart disease.
  • Studies have shown that women with a history of migraine, untreated severe night sweats and hot flashes during menopause have a higher risk of heart disease.
  • Mental health conditions and stress, such as PTSD and depression, are linked to an increase in heart disease in women, who are twice as likely as men to be living with these factors.

Risk factors for heart disease

There are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing heart disease, including:

  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and excessive alcohol use.
  • Health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and chronic kidney disease.
  • Genetic factors: family history of heart disease, especially at an early age
  • Age: the risk of developing heart disease increases with age.
  • Gender: Men are generally at higher risk at a younger age, but the risk for women increases and can surpass that of men after menopause.
  • Ethnicity: Certain ethnic groups are at higher risk, such as African Americans, who have a higher risk of high blood pressure and South Asians, who have a higher risk for heart disease. 

Understanding these aspects of heart health is crucial for prevention and management strategies. Preventative care such as regular check-ups, a health-focused lifestyle, and managing risk factors can help maintain heart health and prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Read more

Connective Matters: Heart Health | Steps Towards Preventative Care


National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). How the Heart Works: The Heart. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/heart

Center for Disease Control (CDC). Prevent Heart Disease. cdc.gov. March 21, 2023 https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/prevention.htm#:~:text=Eating%20foods%20high%20in%20fiber,prevent%20or%20help%20control%20diabetes.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Heart Health for Women. acog.org. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/heart-health-for-women#:~:text=Lack%20of%20physical%20activity%20can,of%20heart%20disease%20and%20stroke

The Mayo Clinic. “Strategies to prevent heart disease”. www.mayoclinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease-prevention/art-20046502

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