Heart disease. Isn't that a man's problem? Many women mistakenly think so. But did you know that heart disease and stroke are the number one killers of American women?
Heart disease kills 32 percent of American women. In the United States, almost twice as many women die from heart disease and stroke as from all types of cancer combined. But most women don't understand their risk.
Risk factors for heart disease
Some risk factors can't be controlled, such as:
- Family history. Heart disease can be inherited.
- Ethnicity. Women of African American, Hispanic, or Asian/Pacific Islander descent are more prone to heart disease than white women.
Risk factors that can be controlled include:
- Smoking. This is a major cause of heart disease and stroke among women. Women who smoke and use birth control pills are at higher risk than nonsmokers who take the pill.
- High blood pressure. This is the most important risk factor for stroke. Women are at increased risk for high blood pressure if they are overweight, have a family history of high blood pressure, or take birth control pills.
- High cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Eating foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol can help lower your risks.
- Diabetes. Women with this condition are 2 to 3 times more likely to have heart attacks than other women.
- Lack of exercise. Even moderate physical activity can lower your risks.
- Being overweight. Too much fat, especially in the waist area, can cause heart disease, stroke, and many other health problems.
- Drinking alcohol excessively. Women should limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day.
Signs of heart problems
Many women don't recognize when they are having a heart attack. They may not have the classic symptoms, such as radiating chest pain. Sudden or unusual fatigue or unusual shortness of breath may be signs of heart disease in some women, but they are not always recognized.
Other possible symptoms of a heart attack to look for include:
- Pressure, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and returns
- Pain that spreads into the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms, or back
- Anxiety, weakness, or fatigue
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Sweaty skin and paleness
- Fainting, nausea, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness
Call 9-1-1 right away if you think you may be having a heart attack.
Take charge of your health
Women are not powerless when it comes to preventing cardiovascular problems. In fact, cutting the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke can be as simple as taking a brisk daily walk around the park. Always check with your doctor first, though, before you increase your activity level. Even a modest amount of physical activity can make a big difference. It also helps control cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity.
Created on 05/18/2000
Updated on 06/15/2011
- National Women's Health Information Center. Heart disease.
- American Heart Association. Women, heart disease, and stroke.
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Smoking and your heart.
- American Heart Association. High blood pressure and women.