What’s the No. 1 cause of death for women in the United States?
No, it’s not cancer, contrary to what many women believe.
Heart disease is actually the biggest cause of death for both men and women in America.
Anyone Can Have It
Heart disease affects more than 43 million American women, according to the American Heart Association. Chances are, we all know friends or family members who have been diagnosed with heart disease or who have suffered from a heart attack or stroke.
Although the risk of heart disease increases with age, anyone, even a fit young woman, can have heart disease and not even know it. Often, when symptoms become visible, damage has already been done to the circulatory system.
Yes, the usual suspects are at work for heart disease for both men and women. Risk factors include:
- Family history
- Race (African-Americans are especially at risk)
- Birth defects of the heart
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Overweight or obesity
- Poor diet
- Alcohol consumption
Differences Between Men and Women
While risk factors may be the same for both sexes, there are some significant differences between the two when it comes to heart disease.
According to a Cleveland Clinic article from October 2019, the death rate for heart disease in women continues to rise, while it is declining for men.Many think the difference is partly due to women’s lack of awareness of heart disease and of a heart attack’s unique warning signs.
So what are the signs of a heart attack for women?
- Angina, (tightness or heaviness). For men, this is usually in the chest. For women, it can also take place in the shoulder, arms, neck, jaw or back.
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden sweating
- Irregular or rapid heartbeats
- Fatigue or weakness
Want a helpful visual? Check out the AHA video “Just a Little Heart Attack,” starring Elizabeth Banks.
If you experience these symptoms, call 911 right away!
You Want to Be There
Women have a tendency to be caretakers. We want to be there for our children, our spouses, our parents and our friends. Sometimes, though, in all this caring for others, we don’t do what we need to for ourselves.
However, the only way to take care of others is to take care of yourself.You can’t be there for others if you’re not there.
The Good News – Prevention or Reversal
Cheer up! Here comes the good part.
While heart disease is serious business, there are ways to decrease your risk or get heart healthy even after a diagnosis of heart disease.
Eat a healthy diet. Limit your intake of saturated fats, such as in fatty meats or fried foods, and limit your salt intake to less than 1,500 mg per day since salt restricts blood flow. Focus instead on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats such as in nuts and avocados. Use fresh foods when you can,and read nutrition labels.
Get moving. Exercise helps get your blood flowing, as well as helping you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease,though, talk to your doctor about the intensity of exercise you should be doing– you may need to do lighter exercises. Simply walking is a good place tostart.
Reach or stay at a healthy weight. Talk to your health care provider about strategies to reach a healthy weight, including healthy food and exercise.
Take medicine as prescribed. If you are on medication for high blood pressure, make sure you take it as prescribed. Talk to your prescribing physician if any issues arise.
Don’t smoke or drink. Both of these activities are linked to higher risk of heart disease. The Surgeon General recommends no more than one drink per day as alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure.
Take care of medical issues. Treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or any issues that can increase your risk of heart disease.
Women, we want to be there for those we love, and they want us to be around and healthy for a long while. Do them, and yourself, a favor, and take care of what matters – your heart.