Quick, Name the #1 Killer of Women

If you didn’t answer heart disease, this is the month to educate yourself.

February is National Heart Month, and here’s one important fact to remember, especially for baby boomer and older women:  Once thought to be a disease of men, heart disease is now the #1 killer of women.  This equals about 300,000 deaths per year.  Yet according to a survey from the American Heart Association, only 13% of women say heart disease is their greatest personal health risk.

So it’s important for you to be educated about heart attack symptoms, and to remind yourself of preventive lifestyle choices to keep your ticker ticking for years to come. 


The symptoms of myocardial infarction (heart attack) are different for men vs women, i.e., they’re not the crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks.  Here are some signs that women are more apt to experience (Note: some of these occur a month or so before a heart attack):

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Pain in one or both arms.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Sweating.
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Unusual fatigue.
  • Indigestion.

Unfortunately, women often confuse their symptoms with those of indigestion or just being tired.  But if you’re feeling these discomforts, have someone drive you to your local hospital or call 911.  If you can get help within the first 3 – 4 hours, you can avoid permanent damage to heart muscles.  After 5 – 6 hours, much less heart tissue can be saved.  And after 12 hours, the damage is usually irreversible.

Lifestyle Choices

Heart disease is preventable.  Here are some tips from Scripps Health to help push the odds in your favor:

Healthy habits:  Start now; women with healthy lifestyle before age 50 have a better chance of avoiding heart disease.  Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fatty fish (such as salmon), and fewer processed foods.

Don’t smoke:  It can increase your risk of heart disease by two to four times.

Stay active:  As little as 30 minutes of moderate activity can reduce your risk for heart disease.  Look for small ways to make movement a natural part of your day: take the stairs, do your own gardening and housework, walk the dog twice a day or take a stroll while on the phone.

Skip the soda:  Two or more sugar-sweetened beverages daily increase the risk for heart disease.

Drink responsibly:  Wine can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by 25%; moderate drinking means one drink per day for women.

Brush your teeth:  Bacteria in your mouth can lead to gum disease, doubling your risk for a heart attack.

Relax:  Prolonged exposure to cortisol, the stress hormone, damages arterial lining, making it more difficult for your heart to beat.

Know your numbers:

Check with your doctor regarding your blood lipid levels and glucose/hemoglobin A1C control.  But two numbers you can easily monitor yourself include:

BMI: This statistic looks at your height and weight; aim for a Body Mass Index of 18.5 – 24.9.  Here’s a quick way to get your BMI: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/ bmi_calculator.htm

Waist (abdominal) circumference:  A larger waist measurement indicates fat tissue accumulation around your organs; a higher number is linked with heart disease risk factors.

Hold a tape measure at the level of your navel and circle your abdomen with it. (Measure below, not at, the narrowest part of your torso.)

And now some quick facts about your heart :

  • Your heart beats approximately 100,000 times per day, pumping 2,000 gallons of blood, enough to fill four bathtubs.
  • The pumping motion of your heart creates enough energy in one day to drive a truck 20 miles.
  • Women have a 15% greater chance of having a heart attack on a Monday than any other day of the week, especially those under age 50.

For exercise and eating advice to keep your heart healthy, reach out to me.

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