10 things a woman should know about heart disease risks


The American Heart

Association’s strategies for

a heart-healthy lifestyle:

n Don’t smoke

n Be physically active

— 30 minutes daily

n Eat a heart-healthy diet

n Maintain a healthy weight

n Manage your

blood pressure

n If you have diabetes,

control your blood sugar (HbA1c goal: 6.5 percent)

n Talk to your doctor

about depression

n Consume alcohol

only in moderation

Women — if you think that heart disease is something you don’t need to worry about, you could be tragically mistaken. This is one disease that most women know far too little about, and it affects far too many of us.

Celebrate American Heart Month in February by taking 10 minutes to learn the 10 things that every woman needs to know about heart disease:

  1. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. We worry about breast cancer all the time, but heart attacks kill six times as many women as breast cancer. More women die from heart disease and stroke than from all cancers combined. African American and Hispanic women are at especially high risk of heart disease.

  2. Cardiovascular disease kills more women than men. One potential reason for this higher toll is that the disease may be different in women. In men, it tends to be more localized: A blockage builds up in one spot in a blood vessel, where it can be pinpointed and treated with angioplasty or a bypass graft.

  3. Among those who have had a heart attack, almost twice as many women than men die within one year. Women tend to deny their symptoms longer, or fail to recognize their symptoms, which can be different from men’s (see the next item). We often delay seeking medical attention. And we may not be treated as aggressively as men.

  4. Women’s heart attack symptoms may be different from men’s. The classic heart attack symptom is chest pain or pressure, but women tend to have symptoms that are atypical — and they can be subtle. The top five symptoms in women are:

n Fatigue

n Shortness of breath

n Indigestion or upper abdominal pain

n Jaw or throat pain

n Pain in one or both arms

If you experience one or more symptoms that could indicate a heart attack, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital immediately (don’t drive yourself).

  1. Smoking more than doubles a woman’s risk for heart attack and stroke.

  2. Women (and men) who are overweight by 30 pounds or more have a greater likelihood of developing heart disease — even if they have no other risk factors.

  3. High blood pressure doubles a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease and heart failure. High blood pressure can sneak up on you without any warning signs. If you don’t know your blood pressure numbers, make a doctor’s appointment to find out. The goal is a reading of less than 120/80.

  4. Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure two- to eight-fold. If you have diabetes, your heart health depends on how well you manage your disease. Many people develop prediabetes without knowing it.

  5. Heart disease risk increases with high LDL and low HDL cholesterol. It’s not enough to know your total cholesterol number. The way that number breaks down between LDL (the type of cholesterol that’s lousy for your heart) and HDL (the kind that helps your heart) makes all the difference. Know your numbers and work to keep your HDL high. Aim for LDL below 100 , HDL above 50.

  6. Hormone therapy may not reduce the risk of heart attack in women.


Columbia Gorge Heart Clinic’s Kathy Grewe is a medical doctor and Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

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