Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's not just a guy thing: More women die of heart disease than men

As women, we tend to focus on breast cancer as the disease to beat, and think of heart disease as something for guys to be concerned about. But according to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases kill twice as many women in the U.S. as all other types of cancer combined. And, since 1991, more women have died of heart disease than men. Women are 21 percent more likely than men to die within a year of having their first heart attack. (The numbers are worse if you're a woman of color: African American women are 70 percent more likely than Caucasian women to die within a year of having their first heart attack.)

Events of the Heart, a non-profit dedicated to promoting awareness of heart disease, points out that when it comes to having a heart attack, 1/3 of women don't experience that intense, stabbing, grab-at-your-chest pain you see in the movies. "Most women actually experience flu-like symptoms when they are having a heart attack," the site explains. In addition to pressure, pounding heart beats, or pain that radiates outward to your shoulders, back, arms, and jaw, women should get help if they notice these other signs as well:

Shortness of breath
Nausea or vomiting
Sweating, dizziness, or weakness
Panic with the feeling of impending doom
Upper abdominal pain
Gas-like pain
Unexplained pain between your shoulder blades
The risks of having heart disease are higher if you're older than 55, have a parent or a sibling who has had a heart attack, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Women who smoke have a much higher risk of developing heart disease—2 to 6 times greater—and even being around second-hand smoke can up your risk by 30 percent.

Over at Events of the Heart, Dr. Ricard N. Fogoros of About.com offers a quiz to help you figure out whether you're at risk for a heart attack (click on number 17 for the quiz). If you have three or more of the following issues, your risk for heart disease is high:

Are 20 or more pounds overweight
Have diabetes or taking medication to control your blood sugar
Take birth control pills
Exercise less than 30 minutes, four times per week
Have metabolic syndrome

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