Heart Disease and Women

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Get the facts and reduce your risk!  happyfitmama.com

As some of you may know, I work as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation. When I went into this profession, I had no real reason. My family does not have a strong history of heart disease. I just liked exercise, talking about exercise and counseling others on how to live a healthier life. Over the years, my reasons have changed. One of the big reasons are the people who become my patients that make me enjoy my job.

When someone has a heart event, often times they feel scared, alone and not sure of what the future holds for them. Cardiac Rehabilitation is a medically supervised program to help patients recover quickly and improve their overall physical, mental, and social functioning after an event. Essentially, it’s an exercise, education and support program to help patients learn how to live a healthier life. Research shows that patients who participate in Cardiac Rehab live longer and have a better quality of life than those that don’t.

I’ve seen a wide range of people who have been affected by heart disease whether it’s from Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG), Myocardial Infarction (MI), PCI/Stents, Stable Angina, Cardiomyopathy, or Valve Replacement/Repair. When I first entered the field 14+ years ago, most of my patients were at least 70 and older. While we still see older patients, we have also begun to see people in their 30s and 40s. The youngest patient I ever had was in her late 20s.  It was scary that she was actually younger than me!  And it’s not just here and there that we see younger patients. We recently had 8 patients out of 16 total who were 50 or younger. Most of them were otherwise healthy, exercised daily, ate “right” and were not overweight. The common link? All of them had a very strong family history of heart disease.

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Unfortunately, you can not change your genetics. But that doesn’t mean you should start chain smoking, stop exercising and eat nothing but donuts and beer, either. Imagine if those patients of mine did not exercise, ate horribly day after day and were severely overweight? They most likely would not have survived their heart event.

So what risk factors can you control:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Manage your blood sugar
  • Get your blood pressure under control
  • Lower your cholesterol
  • Know your family history
  • Stay active
  • Lose weight if overweight
  • Eat healthy

Heart disease is the number one killer of women.

Stop for a second and reread the sentence above.  Did you get that? Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Most women fear breast cancer.  I know I do since my mom had breast cancer. Women routinely get their mammograms and do self checks each month.  But what about your heart?  Most women, especially younger women, think heart disease is something you don’t have to think about till you are at least 70.That’s not the case at all.

  • Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.
  • 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
  • Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.
  • The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood.
  • While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.

Source: Go Red for Women

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Media has conditioned us to believe that the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain. But in reality, women are somewhat more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.

Even if you’re a yoga-loving, marathon-running workout fiend, your risk for heart disease isn’t completely eliminated. Factors like cholesterol, eating habits and smoking can counterbalance your other healthy habits. You can be thin and have high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. Also, keep an eye on your blood pressure. Both high cholesterol and high blood pressure have no symptoms.

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If you are already active, great!  Keep it up! Physical activity is something that is linked to all the controllable risk factors of heart disease(diabetes, overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, etc.).  Make time for exercise by scheduling it in like you would a doctor’s appointment. You are worth the time!

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer with all of this information. Heart disease is scary and it’s real. It can happen to anyone. But with the proper nutrition, exercise, knowledge, and awareness throughout your life, you can find the key on how to love your heart and have it love you right back.
For more information about heart disease, please check out the following links:

Go Red For Women Campaign

American Heart Association

Did you know heart disease is the number one killer of women?

How are you reducing your risk factors for heart disease?

20 comments on “Heart Disease and Women

  1. I am always fascinated that heart disease doesn’t get more attention! I know breast cancer is always a huge funding effort (which is GREAT) but heart disease kills WAY more women each year!! Bravo for writing this and brining some much needed attention to signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
    Allie recently posted..Are You Overcomplicating Your Life?My Profile

  2. This is such important info. Heart disease runs in my family and it’s something I think about. I also wonder about “healthy eating” as I find so many people say that they eat well, but it can mean so many different things as we’re so confused by marketing messages.
    And how crazy to have someone in their 20’s!!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..8 Sweet Treats for Valentine’s DayMy Profile

    1. Oh yes, definitely. The “healthy eating” thing is so tricky. There’s just too many interpretations. And the way research goes, it changes every year!

  3. This is so important. Like you said, most women fear breast cancer, while they’re much more likely to suffer from heart disease.

    I know from personal experience. My mom died from a heart attack at 65 years old. She was healthy, relatively fit (she loved to Jazzercise!), and had no idea she was having a heart attack. We found a medical book open to a section on heartburn. Maybe if she’d realized…
    Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs recently posted..7 Tips to Increase Your Social Media EngagementMy Profile

    1. Oh wow, Debbie. Almost every single woman I’ve had as a patient thought she was having really bad heartburn or that she was just doing too much so that’s why she was super fatigued.

  4. Such important information for everyone! My Mom had 6 bypasses two years ago. It was the scariest thing to see. Unfortunately, every single person in my family has heart problems. But they are overweight and eat poorly. While I do eat very healthy, workout and am at the proper weight, I fear I will still be succumbed to some form of cardiovascular issues.
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted..WIAW…Sometimes You Have to Have Faith & ChopsticksMy Profile

  5. That’s scary that women my age are having heart problems! And yet, sadly, after seeing in college how so many people my age eat poorly, smoke, drink heavily, and put themselves through so much stress even though they know better, it doesn’t surprise me too much. I used to think breast cancer was the number one killer of women and only learned that heart disease was a few years ago.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted..You’re Not a Cookie Cutter Runner, So Stop Using a Cookie Cutter PlanMy Profile

    1. Sadly, it’s not those women who are doing all the “wrong” things that I’m seeing. I’ve had patients who were marathon runners, vegan/vegetarian, didn’t drink and were the picture of good health. You just never know about anything in life.

  6. Thank you so much for writing about this! Heart disease runs in my family – everyone on my dad’s side has symptoms/heart attacks. My dad had a heart attack when he was 50 years old which was so scary. It was a huge wakeup call for my family. I got tested when I was 19 and found out that I had high cholesterol! I was overweight and not active at all, and since then I’ve become a runner and have made big changes in how I eat. I’m still at a huge risk for heart disease considering my family history, so I really appreciate you writing about this. It’s so scary and so common!
    Kristen recently posted..The Runner’s Guide to Practicing GratitudeMy Profile

  7. I had Preeclampsia with all three of my babies. This puts me at a very high risk for heart disease. Thank you for sharing this very important info! Women need more knowledge about the risks of heart disease.

  8. The post is very accurate (I can vouch as a scientist) and I found it very helpful. People are interested in such topics but it gets intimidating and hard when related articles are full of medical jargon. This is a great way for more people to be informed about such topics! Thanks for writing it and I’d love to see more!
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  9. Thanks for this information. It is so important, and something we might not always think about… until something happens to someone we love. My mother in law passed away last year after a bypass surgery. Years and years of smoking caused such terrible effects on her body. Keeping healthy will always be a priority for me and my family!
    Lisa @ TechChick Adventures recently posted..Adventures in the land up North!My Profile

  10. Despite confusing news reports, the basics of healthy eating are actually quite straightforward. You should focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains and keep red meat to a minimum. It’s also important to cut back on bad fats (saturated and trans fats) and choose healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) more often. Taking a multivitamin with folate every day is a great nutrition insurance policy.

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