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Heart disease the leading cause of death for women in the US

woman walking on road

Heart disease affects more than 42 million American women, yet myths still persist that heart attacks are more of a problem for men than women.

Only 55 percent of women know that heart disease is a significant threat to them and less than half know what healthy levels should be for risk factors of heart disease, like blood pressure and cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease facts

  • More than 35 percent of deaths in American women over the age of 20 are caused by cardiovascular disease each year.
  • The number of deaths caused by heart attacks in women is five times as many as breast cancer.
  • Congestive heart failure accounts for more than 56 percent of all heart failure deaths.

Lower your risk

You can lower your chance of developing heart disease by lowering your risk. That includes changing your lifestyle to:

Lower cholesterol

profile of woman biting into hamburger

45 percent of adult women have a total cholesterol of at least 200mg/dL, raising the risk of heart disease. What should it be?

  • Total Blood Cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
  • HDL Cholesterol: 50 mg/dL and above
  • LDL Cholesterol: Less than 70 mg/dL is optimal if you’re at risk for heart attack. Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal for people with heart disease or diabetes
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

Talk to your doctor to interpret your cholesterol levels. Learn more about cholesterol here.

Lower blood pressure

hands and arms with blood pressure cuff

High blood pressure can weaken and damage arteries, causing an added workload on the circulatory system and leading to damage to the heart itself. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Learn more about blood pressure and heart disease.

Quit Smoking

Cigarette butts in ashtray

Cigarette smoking can double your risk of dying from heart disease. But according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, within 20 minutes of quitting, blood pressure and heart rate drop to normal, and in 24 hours, the chance of having a heart attack already decreases.

Ready to quit?

Become physically active

women riding bike

More than half of all American women say they are sedentary and get no leisure time physical activity. But exercise can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in women by 30 to 40 percent. It does this is part by:

  • Improving blood circulation
  • Keeping weight under control
  • Helping smokers quit
  • Improving blood cholesterol levels
  • Preventing and managing high blood pressure
  • Managing stress

Lose weight

Too much fat raises blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure and can lead to diabetes. But 58% of Caucasian women, 80% of African-American women, and 74% Hispanic-American women are overweight or obese.

Treat diabetes

Women with diabetes are 2 ½ times more likely to have a heart attack at a younger age than women without diabetes.

Learn how to treat diabetes here.

Manage stress

busy mom on phone holding toddler

The link between stress and heart disease is not clear, but chronic stress that increases heart rate and blood pressure could damage artery walls and take a physical toll on you, lowering your immune response.

Learn how to manage stress here.

Moderate alcohol consumption

close up of wine glass

Drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood, lead to high blood pressure, and heart failure. It can also lead to eating too many calories, which can lead to obesity and put you at a higher risk for diabetes.

Learn more about alcohol and cardiovascular disease here.

Know the signs

A heart attack happens when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked – often by a blood clot. If the blood flow is cut off completely, part of the heart muscle can begin to die.

Some women believe only crushing chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack and delay seeking help, but women can experience all or some of the following symptoms.
Each woman is different. If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes to call for help.

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

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