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Heart Disease: What Women Need to Know

Here are two important questions for you... Question #1: Are you a woman? Question #2: If your answer to #1 was “yes” do you know you may be at serious risk for heart disease?

For years coronary heart disease was thought to be more of a “man’s disease” and affect many more men than women. That’s just not the case. In fact, 25 percent of women – alongside 25 percent of men – have some form of cardiovascular (or heart) disease. More than 500,000 women die each year due to heart disease and it is the number one killer of women over the age of 25. But many women don’t consider heart disease to be a health risk.

So why don’t more women pay attention to this deadly health threat?

Well, to begin with, the majority of past studies on the heart and heart disease were performed only on men. The results of those studies formed the “model” for diagnosing and treating heart disease. Unfortunately, the way heart disease manifests itself in women can be – and often is – different than men. Even though newer studies have provided more up-to-date information on women’s heart health risks, women still fall behind when it comes to diagnosing and treating heart disease. Women are more likely to die from a heart attack than men – 1.7 times more likely, in fact.

Perhaps due to the lack of information and research on women’s heart health risks, women are less informed when it comes to recognizing heart health hazards and practicing prevention. Many women think that cancer, particularly breast cancer, is their biggest health threat. But while one in 30 women dies from breast cancer, a whopping one in 2.5 women dies from the effects of heart disease or stroke.

Thankfully a change is in the wind. More women are teaming up with their doctors to be more proactive in the prevention, recognition and treatment of heart disease. If women are better armed with the knowledge of their own heart health they will be many steps ahead in preventing heart disease and improving their overall health.

Risk Factors

While you cannot control risk factors such as your age or family history, there are factors you CAN control.

  • Smoking
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Cholesterol
  • Being overweight (with a waist measurement of 35 inches or more)
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Overwhelming stress
  • Excess alcohol

If you have any of the above risk factors, it’s time to start working on reversing them. Talk to your doctor about any lifestyle changes you can make (quitting smoking, adding exercise, making nutritional/dietary changes, etc.). Depending on the number and severity of your risk factors, your doctor may also advise a battery of tests to determine if more immediate measures need to be taken.


Again, based on the years of past research which took only a male approach to heart disease, the general idea of a heart attack is that of sudden chest pain that may move into the neck, jaw, and left shoulder/arm. We’re learning this isn’t always the case – especially for women. It’s reported that about one-third of women don’t experience chest pain at all, but rather any one or a combination of the symptoms below.  Additionally, these symptoms often come on slowly and gradually, rather than the sudden pain one might normally associate with a heart attack.

  • Unusual and unexplained fatigue
  • Pressure, fullness, discomfort or squeezing in the center of the chest
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Pounding or a feeling of extra heartbeats
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or severe indigestion
  • Sweating for no apparent reason
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness

These symptoms, of course, can be the sign of a number of other conditions. But if you experience any of them, it could be a sign that you are having a heart attack.

Please don’t write them off as insignificant – it’s much better to be safe than sorry.

So – now that you know the facts, isn’t it time to start working on your heart health?

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