If you think heart disease is something that usually happens to older men, it’s time to think again. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in women, killing more women than all forms of cancer combined.

For this February, we encourage everyone, especially women to start looking after their heart health. Don’t know where to start? Have a read below.

Who knew that women should pay attention to their hearts?

A study done by the American Heart Association revealed that about half of women surveyed knew heart disease was the leading cause of death in women but only 13% said it was their greatest personal health risk.

Many health care professionals also don’t address heart disease as a real risk for women. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2017 found:

  • 45% of women didn’t know cardiovascular disease is the number 1 killer of women
  • Only 39% of primary care physicians (PCPs) said heart disease was a top concern, after weight and breast health
  • Only 22% of PCPs and 42% of cardiologists felt well prepared to assess women’s cardiovascular risk

Many women say their doctors never talk to them about heart disease risk.

Why is this a problem?

It is estimated that about 75% of all women have at least one risk factor for heart disease – and more than 75% of cardiovascular disease is preventable. Many cardiovascular risk factors can be addressed and even reversed, but you have to know you’re at risk in order to do something about it.

Heart disease risk factors in women:

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity are heart disease risk factors for both men and women, but these other risk factors may affect women’s heart health more than men, including:

  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Menopause

You have control over many of these risk factors. Here are some steps you can take to help reduce your risk:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise regularly (aim for at least 150 minutes/week).
  • Eat a healthy diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Avoid too much sodium, sugar or saturated fat.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Take steps to manage diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression, if you have it.
  • Reduce stress.

Heart attack symptoms in women:

Pain or pressure in the chest is a common heart attack symptom in both men and women but women are more likely than men to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain, including:

  • Pain or discomfort in the arm, neck, jaw, shoulder, back or abdomen
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadness or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting

Since heart attack symptoms in women are not the same as in men, and they are often more subtle, many women don’t get to a hospital until after heart damage has already occurred. Some doctors don’t even recognize the signs that something is wrong, especially since women can have different symptoms before and during a heart attack than men. They may mistake women’s symptoms for other conditions, stress or panic disorders.