If you are a woman in her 20s or 30s, you may not have been all that concerned with the health of your heart. Statistics show that there is a serious lack of understanding among women about the dangers of heart disease and stroke. As we enter American Heart Month this February, however, there may be reason to start paying attention. Here’s why:
1. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the #1 Killer Among Women: According to the results of a 2003 study, only 13 percent of women in America believe that heart disease and stroke are the greatest health threat to women. The reality is, however, that CVD is THE largest cause of female deaths in America. Specifically, in 2005, CVD claimed the lives of 454,613 females, while cancer of all forms claimed the lives of 268,890 women. Further, American women are 4 to 6 times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer.
2. CVD Can Affect Women of Every Age: Heart disease develops over time and can start as early as the teenage years. Girls, teenagers and young adults can make lifestyle-related choices that can increase heart disease risk or decrease risk. Lack of physical activity, smoking and poor nutritional choices can all play a role in the early development of heart disease. As a result, it is important to make good lifestyle choices at the earliest age possible.
3. Death Rate as a Result of CVD is Higher in Women than Men: More women than men die of stroke. Further, 42% of women who have heart attacks die within 1 year, compared to 24% of men. Additionally, those women under the age of 50, are twice as likely to die as a result of a heart attack than men.
4. Survival Doesn’t Mean it’s Over: One way in which heart disease can manifest itself is through a stroke. Although many individuals can survive a stroke, they still may have permanent health issues as a result. Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability with 15 to 30 percent of victims permanently disabled. Further, two-thirds of women who have a heart attack fail to make a full recovery.
5. Diagnosis isn’t Easy: Men and women show different warning signs of a possible heart attack with silent heart attacks (heart attacks with little or no symptoms) more common among women than among men. Is a matter of fact, 71% of women experience symptoms more like those of the flu – often with no chest pain at all. Other atypical symptoms include neck and shoulder pain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and shortness of breath. As a result, it isn’t always easy to diagnose.
6. Ethnicity and Heart Health: African American and Hispanic American/Latina women should be concerned about getting heart disease because they tend to have more risk factors than white women. These risk factors include obesity, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Further, the death rate due to CVD is substantially higher in black women than in white women.
Women can lower their heart disease risk by as much as 82 percent just by leading a healthy lifestyle. So, whatever your age, start taking steps to improve your heart health. Important lifestyle choices include smoking cessation, maintaining a healthy BMI or body weight, remaining active, eating a healthy diet and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.