Heart disease is the leading killer of women, responsible for one in three deaths each year, according to the American Heart Association. A woman dies from heart disease nearly every 80 seconds in America, but most cardiovascular disease is preventable, and there are steps all women can take to reduce their risk.
February is Go Red for Women month, an opportunity to recognize the impact heart disease has on women’s health.
Heart disease does not impact all women equally. Black women are disproportionately impacted by heart disease, likely because they develop high blood pressure at higher rates and earlier than white women. The American Heart Association reports some of the increased risk may come from higher risk of obesity, diabetes and exposure to chronic stress, but that genetics are also a factor. New research shows that black women have a gene that makes them more sensitive to the effects of salt, increasing their cardiovascular disease risk.
Hispanic women tend to develop heart disease much earlier than non-Hispanic women and are significantly more likely to be uninsured, leading to gaps in preventative care. They are more likely than other groups to take preventive action to keep their families healthy but less likely to take steps for their own health.
However, there is good news for black and Hispanic women. New research shows that they report higher levels of trust in their doctors than whites and are more likely to act on the information their providers give them.
Good nutrition and regular exercise are the best tools to prevent heart disease, but making the lifestyle changes needed to prevent the leading killer of women can be challenging. Women living in poverty are less likely to have access to nutritious food and less likely to be able to find the time and space to exercise.
Although keeping a healthy body weight reduces risk of heart disease, women of any weight can be affected. Women who appear fit may still have high cholesterol, poor nutrition or choose to smoke, any of which can substantially increase their risk.
Awareness of the first symptoms of a heart attack or stroke is also an important piece of reducing cardiovascular disease deaths. For both women and men, the most common symptom of a heart attack is pain, fullness or discomfort in the center of the chest. However, women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms, including shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, back or jaw pain.
This February, take a moment to learn more about how to prevent heart disease for the women in your life.