National Wear Red Day was observed Friday, February 3 and marked 15 years since the initial National Wear Red Day, which was first observed to bring national attention to the fact that heart disease is the number one killer of women. The event was also designed to raise awareness of women’s heart health. Do you know what causes heart disease in women? What about the survival rate? Or whether women of all ethnicities share the same risk? The term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack.
Facts on Women and Heart Disease:*
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 289,758 women in 2013—that’s about 1 in every 4 female deaths.
- Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among Hispanic women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer.
- About 5.8 percent of all white women, 7.6 percent of black women, and 5.6 percent of Mexican American women have coronary heart disease.
- Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.
Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort.
- Shortness of breath.
- Pain in one or both arms.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness.
- Unusual fatigue.
High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49 percent) have at least one of these three risk factors. Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement advocates for more research and swifter action for women’s heart health for this very reason. To reduce your chances of getting heart disease it’s important to:
- Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can result in heart disease.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.
- Quit smoking.
- Discuss checking your cholesterol and triglycerides with your healthcare provider.
- Make and eat healthy food. Obesity raises your risk of heart disease.
- Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.
- Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.
*Information for this article was obtained from Norfolk State University’s Center for Excellence in Minority Health Disparities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website (https://www.cdc.gov/).