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Heart Disease: It's a Women's Problem, Too

You've seen it before on TV or in the movies--the older man clutching his chest or arm, seemingly in the throes of a heart attack. It's not an uncommon sight. What you rarely see in the media is a woman suffering from heart disease. But the truth is, one in two women will die of cardiovascular disease.

Nurse and female patient

Many women underestimate their risk for heart disease and overestimate their risk for cancer. But while cancer is a serious health concern, heart disease is far more common than cancer in women. In fact, nearly twice as many American women die of heart attack or stroke than from all forms of cancer combined--including breast cancer.

Women may underestimate their risk because heart disease is more prevalent later in life in women. On average, the risk of death due to heart disease in women is equal to that of men 10 years younger.

Symptoms Differ in Women

Women also experience heart disease differently than men. Often the signs and symptoms of heart problems--especially for coronary artery disease and heart attack--are overlooked as indigestion or hormonal changes.

Studies show that women are less likely to seek care when they experience chest pain or other symptoms of heart problems. This may be because women are often unaware of the sometime subtle signs of heart disease and heart attack.

Just as in men, chest pain is a common symptom for heart attack in women. But there are other, atypical signs that are more common in women than men. Women often report feeling short of breath, or having pain in the back, neck, or jaw. Other frequently seen symptoms of heart attack in women are fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.

Are You at Risk?

The risks for heart disease in men and women are similar, though some risks are more serious for women. The major risk factors include:

  • Smoking. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of heart disease in women. More than 50 percent of heart attacks in women are related to tobacco use.
  • Overweight. Being more than 20 pounds overweight greatly increases your risk for heart problems.
  • High blood pressure. More than 60 percent of all women older than age 65 have high blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol. All women older than age 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked.
  • Inactivity. Being sedentary can greatly increase your risk for heart disease. Even a simple, regular walking program can boost your heart health.
  • Diabetes. Women with diabetes are three to seven times more likely to have heart disease. This is in contrast to a two- to threefold increase in heart disease for men with diabetes.
  • Being African-American. Black women have a higher incidence of heart disease than white women.

What Can You Do About Heart Disease?

Regardless of your age or if you are a woman or man, talk to your physician about heart disease. Ask your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk. Discuss your personal health history, and inform your doctor if you have a family history of early death from heart disease. Fortunately, it's never too early or too late to reduce your risk.

Our Female Cardiologists

Some women feel more comfortable discussing their health concerns with female physicians. If you prefer to see a female cardiologist, you may make an appointment with one of the following heart experts:

More Information

  • Heart Disease in Women
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