Women should be aware of the special risks they face with heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women. Statistics indicate that one in two women will eventually die of heart disease or stroke. Compare this with the one in 27 who will die of breast cancer. While men develop heart disease earlier, after menopause, women's risk factors are the same as men.
Consider these other facts:
- One in five women has some form of cardiovascular disease (AHA, 2003)
- A higher percentage of men than women have high blood pressure until age 55. From age 55 - 74, the percentage of women is somewhat higher; after 74, a higher percentage of women have high blood pressure than men. (Health United States 2001, CDC/NCHS)
- 63 percent of women who died suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms of this disease. (Framingham Heart Study, NHLBI)
- Deaths from heart disease in women with diabetes have increased 23 percent over the past 30 years compared with a 27 percent decrease in women without diabetes (National Diabetes Education Program)
However, being aware of the increased risk women face is one step in avoiding heart disease. Women can also pay special attention to modifiable or preventable risks. These include:
- Smoking: a female smoker is two to four times more likely to suffer a heart attack than a female nonsmoker. (American Heart Association)
- High Blood Pressure: half of all women over 55 have high blood pressure. (NHLBI: Facts about Women and Heart Disease)
- Elevated Cholesterol: cholesterol begins to increase at age 20, increases sharply beginning at age 40, and continues to increase to age 60. (NHLBI)
- Obesity: excess body weight in women is linked with coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and death from heart-related causes. (NHLBI)
- Physical Inactivity: according to the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health , 60 percent of American women do not get the recommended amount of physical activity (30 minutes most days of the week). About 25 percent have no physical activity.
- Diabetes: compared to women of the same age without diabetes, women with diabetes have three to seven times the risk of heart disease and heart attack. (American Heart Association)
- Other Risk Factors include: stress, birth control pills, alcohol consumption, hormones, and menopause.
In addition, women can help themselves by being aware of the signs of a heart attack: chest pain and/or tightness, shortness of breath, pain in the arm, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.
If you have any of these risk factors, take steps to eliminate or modify the impact they have on your lifestyle. Please contact your Ministry Health Care physician group or hospitals for more information about local resources.
You may also want to read our brochure Women and Heart Disease.