What women with diabetes should know about their coronary calcium risk

Heart attacks are more common in men than in women. And unfortunately, this can create a false sense of security in women when it comes to heart health. We don’t expect a heart attack to happen to us.

In fact, research shows women who have heart attacks often don’t seek medical help right away because they don’t think they’re having a heart attack… they think it’s indigestion, a pulled muscle or the beginning of the flu. And women themselves aren’t the only ones who tend to overlook their heart attack symptoms… medical professionals do, too. Women who have heart attacks are 50 percent more likely than men to be misdiagnosed at first.

So, even though women are less likely to have heart attacks than men, we shouldn’t let our guard down, especially since women’s heart attacks tend to be more severe than men’s. Women are 50 percent more likely than men to die in the first year after a heart attack.

Now, whether you’re a man or a woman, there’s one factor that automatically increases your heart disease risk — diabetes. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely than people without it to develop cardiovascular disease. If you’re a woman with diabetes, there’s one medical test you should get to gauge your risk of having a severe heart attack, according to the latest research…

Diabetic women with high coronary calcium double their risk of heart attack death

A coronary calcium scan gauges calcium buildup in your coronary arteries. The more calcium you have in your arteries, the higher your risk of having a heart attack. Unfortunately, the results of this test may indicate more serious risks for women with diabetes than men with diabetes…

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that women who had high coronary calcium scores had a significantly higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than men with high scores.

In their study, researchers looked at coronary calcium heart scans for 4,503 people with diabetes who were tracked for 11 years. Women who had coronary calcium scores higher than 100 had double the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than men with similar scores. Total death rates, regardless of coronary calcium scores, were also much higher in women.

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Researchers found that women who had calcium scores of 101-400 had a 3.7 times higher death rate than the average person, and women with scores that were 401 or greater had cardiovascular deaths 6.3 times greater cardiovascular disease death rate than the average person. The cardiovascular disease death rates for diabetic men with similar scores were 1.6 and 3.5-fold greater than the average person.

“Our findings suggest a call-to-action for even more aggressive risk factor management in a woman with diabetes found to have significant levels of coronary calcium to prevent future death from cardiovascular causes,” said lead author of the study Nathan D. Wong, Ph.D.

Make time to manage your diabetes and heart disease risk factors

So, if you’re a woman with diabetes, you may want to talk to your doctor about scheduling a coronary calcium scan. Of course, whether you have the scan or not, you’ll want to pay extra attention to your heart health. And that starts by managing your diabetes and other heart disease risk factors well.

Research shows that cardiovascular disease risk is 60 percent lower in people who have well-managed blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. And the best way to get all three of those things under control is by eating healthy and exercising.

There are a variety of diets that can improve blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure for people with diabetes. But in general, you’ll want to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, heart-healthy fish (and other healthy fats). You’ll also want to tack on fiber-rich foods like nuts and legumes. And try to avoid processed foods and refined grains as much as possible.

As you may have noticed, my recommendations fall right in line with the Mediterranean diet, so if you want to find a Mediterranean diet plan to follow, that would be a great choice for many reasons including that the diet is heavy in foods that are rich in vitamin K2. K2 has been shown to help inhibit deposits of calcium on vascular walls and to help direct calcium to areas in the body where it is most needed, like your bones. Research shows you will find very little K2 in the typical Western diet.

As far as exercise goes, shoot for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. If you’re shooting for weight loss (which can have a positive impact on blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol if you’re overweight), gradually work your way up to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. When it comes to reducing chronic high blood pressure, research shows that dynamic exercises that use large masses of muscle in a rhythmic, continuous way are best. That includes things like walking and jogging.

Give these diet and exercise tips a try in your daily routine if you haven’t already. Hopefully, they’ll help you get your diabetes and heart disease risk under control.

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  1. Throughout life, heart attacks are twice as common in men than women — Harvard Health Publishing.
  2. Women and Heart Disease — Texas Heart Institute.
  3. Heart Attack Symptoms in Women — American Heart Association.
  4. Misdiagnosis of heart attacks in women — British Heart Foundation.
  5. Diabetes and Heart Disease — Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  6. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke — National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  7. Women with diabetes and high levels of coronary artery calcium at greater risk of death than men — Technology.org.
  8. Coronary Calcium Scan: Should I Have This Test? — University of Michigan Medicine.
  9. Diabetes diet: Create your healthy-eating plan — Mayo Clinic.
  10. Exercise with a Plan If You Have High Blood Pressure, Diabetes — University of Wisconsin Health.
  11. Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health — Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.