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Heart Disease: Top Cause of Death in Women. Do You Know the Warning Signs?

Heart disease kills more women in the United States than any other ailment. Although it is the top killer of women, many American women are unaware of the statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, around one in five women’s death are directly related to heart disease.

According to a national survey that appeared in the journal Circulation from the American Heart Association, many women are unaware of the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Additionally, many women are unaware of the risks that heart disease poses to them. A survey determined that from 2009 to 2019, women’s awareness of heart disease being the number one killer of women had decreased from 65 to 44 percent.

What Do Women Need to Know?

Unfortunately, the decline in knowledge of heart disease being the number one cause of death in women in the US was steady among all racial and ethnic groups and in ages groups except in women older than 65.

According to Dr. Eugenia Gianos, the director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, younger women experienced a rise in deaths due to heart disease. She attributed that to the lack of knowledge and thus, younger women were less likely to practice a lifestyle healthy to their hearts.

The lack of awareness was sharpest in women younger than age 34 and in groups that were not black or Hispanic. However, according to the CDC, non-Hispanic black women are 60 percent more likely to experience heart attacks than white women. Factors such as unsatisfactory insurance coverage, lack of quality care and not enough or no prenatal counseling all come into play.

Women who experience a heart attack experienced symptoms that are different from what men experience. This is often a big source of confusion in women when it comes to heart disease. Although chest discomfort is a common sign of a heart attack, women are more likely to experience other symptoms that are not usually linked with heart attacks. Those symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. There are additional symptoms women may experience during a heart attack. They include the following:

  • Chest pain

  • Cold sweat

  • Pain or discomfort in the back, jaw, arms or stomach

  • Shortness of breath with or without chest pain

  • Vomiting

Women Need Education on Heart Disease

According to the findings from the survey, women who have the greatest lack of awareness not only fall under the under 34 and non-Hispanic black and Hispanic categories, but they have other issues as well: educational disparities and less education.

The most recent report also determined that women who had a higher risk of heart disease or stroke were more aware than women without cardiovascular disease in 2009. However, the same trend was not seen 10 years later in 2019.

Another finding from the report stated that individuals with diabetes were less likely to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke in spite of being at greater risk.

Dr. Gianos stressed the need for education in women so that they know how to spot the signs and symptoms of a cardiac incident. Furthermore, she said there has to be better prevention and treatment for women with heart disease through more research funding. She stated that women of all backgrounds should get evaluated.

What are the Causes of Heart Disease in Women?

There are certain factors that can cause a woman to be a greater risk for heart disease. They include the following:

  • Diabetes

  • Family history

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Obesity

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Smoking

However, even women who don’t have any of these risk factors should still take measures to life a heart-healthy life. Cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg, who works at the Women’s Heart Program at NYU Langone Health, stressed the need for eating a healthy diet that contains plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. She stated that women with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis are at greater risk for heart attacks. Pregnancy conditions can also increase the risk for cardiovascular issues.

The following steps can be taken to minimize your risk for cardiac events:

  • In addition to consuming liberal amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, cut down on salt, sugar, cholesterol and saturated fats

  • Incorporate a regular exercise routine

  • Manage your stress

  • Quit smoking or avoid starting to smoke

  • Drink in moderation

  • Know or learn your family history

  • Learn the ABCs of heart health: aspirin therapy if you need it; control your blood pressure; manage your cholesterol; stop smoking

Knowing the warning signs of heart disease in women is the key to being able to potentially save a life. When there is awareness, you can take the necessary steps to survive. Preventative measures can also not only save, but lengthen your life.

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The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.