Women and Cardiovascular / Heart Disease

While many of us understand that heart disease is a leading killer of Americans, there is the distinct misconception that it affects men far more than women. The truth is that a roughly equal number of men and women die each year because of cardiovascular issues. In fact, according to the CDC, even women may not realize how dangerous heart disease is, with only about 56% of women understanding that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. The statistics are staggering, with about 300,000 women dying each year – that represents about one in every five deaths in women. Alongside its role in cause of death, cardiovascular disease affects upwards of 6% of all women over the age of 20. Many of these millions of women may not have thought of the warning signs of heart disease. Some may have no symptoms at all. The result can be catastrophic, in the form of a heart attack, stroke or heart failure.

The Universal and Gender Specific Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Women

The traditional risk factors for heart disease remain the same for both men and women. And these risks have been drilled into our heads. Whether diabetes, smoking, excess weight, physical activity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, there is no lack of information being disseminated. However, when was the last time you discussed pre-term delivery, breast cancer treatment, autoimmune disease, gestational diabetes, post-partum depression or other factors uniquely affecting women in the context of your heart? The answer is probably never. These are risk factors that we are only just understanding – risk factors that mostly affect women.

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Improvements in Awareness

Fortunately, nationwide campaigns for women’s heart health have increased the awareness of heart disease as the primary cause of death in women. In 1997 it was estimated that about 30% of women understood these heart disease statistics. By 2009, this reached 50+%. However, we are still desperately short of the goal of universal recognition that heart health is a key to improving quality of life and longer life in women.

The Next Steps

As part of our campaign to educate women and even the clinicians treating them, we hope to disseminate this important information both through this website and elsewhere. Even if we save just one life, having educated someone on the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of heart disease that they may never have known, we will consider this a success.

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