The Disease That Kills More Women Than Any Other Still Is Considered a Men’s Disease (Spoiler: It’s Heart Disease)

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There’s quite a disconnect when it comes to women and heart disease. It’s the number-one killer of American women—causing one in five women’s deaths—yet only about half of women recognize that truth. Combating a disease is much more difficult without widespread awareness. 

Recognizing the danger and especially the symptoms can help women avoid heart disease and live longer, healthier lives. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Is Heart Disease, Exactly?

Among the range of cardiovascular ailments, coronary heart disease, also called coronary artery disease, specifically refers to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart. Too much buildup and blood flow to the heart becomes restricted enough to cause a heart attack or stroke. 

Another possibility is that plaque ruptures and forms a blood clot that restricts blood flow. Whether from a slow buildup or ruptured plaque, cutting off blood flow to the heart leads to chest pain (angina), irregular heartbeat, heart attack, or sudden cardiac death. Atherosclerosis also causes stroke and can even lead to a hole in your intestines.

Know the Symptoms of Heart Disease

Unfortunately, plaque can build up in your arteries for a while before you know it’s there—and the ways you recognize it can seem unrelated. Watch out for: 

  • Chest pain or discomfort, also called angina
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Neck, jaw, or throat pain
  • Pain near the blocked artery—often in your arm or leg
  • Nausea and vomiting

Often, heart disease doesn’t give a woman warning signs until things have really become dire, causing heart attack or heart failure. Here again, some of the symptoms may surprise you. 

Heart attack: 

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest or upper body
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness and shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Sweating for no obvious reason

Heart failure:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen legs, feet, and ankles

What Can You Do to Avoid Heart Disease?

Although there’s a genetic component to heart disease, there’s also a lot you can do to protect your arteries and heart. Chances are good you have one of the risk factors for heart disease—nine of 10 women do. Those are high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, diabetes, and a family history of early heart disease. Lifestyle factors like depression, chronic stress, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol or other substance use, and excess weight also are closely linked to heart disease. 

So what can you do? A lot. 

  • Move more. Physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight and helps reduce other risk factors, like high LDL cholesterol and depression. 
  • Choose heart-healthy foods. Try to eat vegetables with every meal and snack on fruit instead of sugar- or fat-laden options. 
  • Prioritize your well-being. Exercise, meditation, or just taking time for yourself help reduce stress and help you sleep better—addressing two of the lifestyle factors that contribute to heart disease. 

Check on the state of things. In just minutes—and for only $49—you can get an early alert to heart disease so you’re better equipped to protect your heart. Make an appointment today for a heart scan.