Heart disease is the No. 1 killer among American women. Yet, research suggests more females worry about getting breast cancer than cardiac problems, despite the fact that heart disease kills six times as many women each year.
“The word cancer frightens people, and it tends to garner a lot more concern than heart disease,” explains Ayan Patel, MD, director of the Women’s Heart Center at Tufts Medical Center. “There has been a misconception that heart attacks are predominantly a disease of men.”
There is also evidence that women do not always seek emergency medical care when they have symptoms of a suspected heart attack.
”Historically, women have often played the role of caretakers, and may tend to focus more on the health of others while minimizing their own health concerns,” says Dr. Patel.
In 2012, a study conducted by the American Heart Association revealed that only 65 percent of women surveyed said they would call 911 if they thought they were having symptoms of a heart attack, although 81 percent said that they would call for help if someone else were having symptoms of a heart attack.
“Women may have atypical symptoms of heart disease, so it’s especially important that they are proactive about assessing their personal risk,” says Sophie Wells, MD, a cardiologist at Tufts Medical Center.
To prevent heart disease from developing, Dr. Wells advises women to work closely with their doctor, undergo routine tests that monitor blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, and adhere to a healthy lifestyle.
“For many people, simple changes can go a long way,” she says.
Top 5 facts every woman should know about heart disease
- One in nine women ages 45-64 develop some form of cardiovascular disease, and rates increase to one out of three in women over 65.
2. Symptoms of a heart attack can be different in women compared to men. Some women may present with chest pain, while others may experience symptoms such as jaw, neck, or back pain, shortness of breath, cold sweats, unexplained nausea, unusual dizziness, or unusual fatigue.
3. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. But it’s important to remember that even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.
4. Modifiable risk factors (cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and smoking) account for about 50 percent of deaths caused by heart disease in women.
5. Studies suggest that women who maintain a healthy body weight, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and do not smoke experience more than an 80 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular events (including heart attack, heart failure and stroke).
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