February is American Heart Month, where we take a moment to focus on the #1 killer in the US: heart disease. As part of this important movement, it’s especially crucial for us to raise awareness about women’s heart disease. Despite growing efforts to educate and advocate for women’s heart health, surprisingly few women realize how serious the risk of heart disease is for them.
In light of the significant gender gap in men’s and women’s cardiac care, let’s shine a spotlight on women’s heart health, including facts, symptoms, risk factors, and how to take charge of your health.
The State of Women’s Heart Health: Facts & Stats
Heart disease is still largely seen as a “man’s disease,” even though women and men are at equal risk for developing conditions like heart attack, heart failure, stroke, coronary artery disease, and more.
Unfortunately, this lack of awareness has contributed to widespread misinterpretation of symptoms, misunderstandings between physician and patient, and misdiagnosis. These issues may partly explain why women are more likely than men to die within a year of having a heart attack.
Let’s break it down:
- Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for women in America, killing 301,280 women in 2019 (roughly 1 in every 5 female deaths).
- An estimated one in three women will have heart disease in her lifetime.
- Heart disease kills six times as many women as breast cancer each year (1 in 5 vs. 1 in 31, respectively).
- Approximately 1 in 16 women age 20 and older have coronary artery disease, which is the most common type of heart disease.
- As of 2020, only 38% of clinical trial participants are women, revealing a gap in understanding and research.
- Fortunately, 80% to 90% of heart disease cases are treatable—and most importantly, preventable.
Know How to Identify the Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women
Women’s heart disease symptoms are different from men’s. For instance, women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual fatigue
- Pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, or throat
- Discomfort in the abdomen or back
- Dizziness, nausea, or cold sweats
- Weakness, particularly in the arms
Unfortunately, many women experience “silent” heart disease, feeling nothing at all until severe symptoms or emergencies like a heart attack happen. Heart disease can develop in women of any age, and it may progress silently over time or arrive without warning.
If we wait until symptoms appear, we may not catch cardiovascular disease in time. This is why prevention is key!
Understand Your Risk Factors
Part of prevention is understanding your risk factors. In America, an estimated 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease. High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are some of the highest risk factors. Other contributing factors include:
- Sedentary lifestyle (lack of activity)
- Overindulgence in alcohol
- Unhealthy diet
- High stress and depression
Though not all risk factors are within our control, many of them are. Even small steps toward heart health can help! Focus on getting more active, eating a healthy diet, and mitigating stress, especially if you know you have a family history of heart disease.
Screening Saves Lives
The American Heart Association recommends heart-health screenings to help you identify risks early and take charge. Screening tests for coronary artery disease should begin at age 20. That’s right—it isn’t just older women who need to be heart-health aware! The essential screening tests for monitoring women’s cardiovascular health are:
- Blood pressure: at least once every two years, more often if your blood pressure is higher than 120/80 mm Hg
- Cholesterol: at least every 4 to 6 years
- Blood Glucose (Blood Sugar): at least every 3 years, more often if you are over 45 or have prediabetes
- Body weight: during your routine annual doctor’s visit
Find Support to “Prevent the Stent”
The unfortunate reality for many women is that their doctors misunderstand and misdiagnose their symptoms. Furthermore, many women report that they never think about heart disease because their provider fails to mention it during routine checkups. However, you should feel empowered to ask questions and request evaluations—or to find a new specialist if your concerns are not being taken seriously.
Seek a specialist that will help you stay healthy for the long term, focusing not only on treatment but prevention. If you want a healthcare partner who takes the time to look for reversible causes and help you overcome them, listens to your concerns, and ultimately places you at the center of care, call Dr. Nitza Alvarez at 352-717-0220 or get in touch online for more information!
NitzaMD: Add More Life to Your Life
NitzaMD offers comprehensive cardiac screening and heart-health programs to women in Central Florida and beyond. Dr. Alvarez is passionate about helping women add life to their lives through advocacy and preventative medicine. Learn more about Dr. Alvarez and her mission to educate and empower women about their cardiovascular health.