How to Fight the No. 1 Killer of Women

Heart disease is still winning the race no one wants to win.

Think breast cancer is women’s biggest health worry?

You’re not alone. Only about half of us know that the right answer is heart disease.

No matter our race, age, origin, heart disease outpaces cancer, respiratory diseases, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease (in rank order) as the leading cause of death among women, taking almost as many female lives as male ones each year.

What is Heart Disease, Anyway?

  • Heart disease (a.k.a. cardiovascular disease or CVD) refers to not just one, but a range of heart conditions, most commonly arrhythmia, heart failure and coronary heart disease and heart attack.

  • These conditions, which cause blocked or narrowed blood vessels, can result in a stroke, heart attack or chest pain (angina).

  • Problems that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm are also considered forms of heart disease.

  • Most often, CVD is caused by atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries, which stiffen and thicken the artery walls, inhibiting smooth blood flow through them.

  • The most common form of heart disease is coronary heart disease. It affects about 1 in 16 women age 20 and up. The rate among white women (6.1 percent) is much higher than it is among Asian women (3.2 percent).

How Do You Know If You Have It?

Symptoms are mostly dependent on what type of heart disease you have — and importantly, they can manifest differently for men and women.

Men are more likely to have what you typically see portrayed in the movies: Chest pain.

For women, our pain can manifest itself as shortness of breath, nausea or extreme fatigue, as well as:

  • Chest pressure

  • Pain, numbness, weakness or a feeling of cold arms or legs (in the case of narrowed blood vessels)

  • Neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back pain

  • Shortness of breath

Sometimes it’s not until someone has a heart attack, stroke, angina or heart failure that they’re diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of your family history (which ups your risk) and what’s going on with your body.

As always, speak up at your regular checkups about your questions and concerns, as heart disease is usually more treatable with early detection.

Know Your Risks

Though you can’t always change risk factors like your gender, age, being post-menopausal or family history (although wouldn’t we love to try?), there are some aspects you can impact, such as:

Smoking. Nicotine constricts blood vessels and the carbon monoxide damages their inner lining. (And yes, you can kick the habit.)

Poor eating habits. If your diet is high in fat, sugar, salt and cholesterol and low in whole grains, fruits and veggies, it’s time to re-evaluate your plate.

High blood pressure. Uncontrolled, it can harden and thicken your arteries, and narrow the path for necessary blood flow.

High cholesterol levels. Same as above.

Being overweight or obese. You know what to do — and you can do it! Even now.

Physical inactivity. Get out there and move!

Drinking too much alcohol. One drink a day is what’s recommended for all women; or better yet, skip it all together.

Having diabetes. Strive to keep your glucose levels under control.

Stress. Aim to relax and say ohm.

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For a Pause

  1. Exercise is called the magic pill for a reason (one reason being that it can help decrease your risk of heart disease!). Need help getting started? Here you go.

  2. Even if you’re not in the dating game or looking for a match, if this doesn’t make you smile (and smiling, it’s good for your heart), then nothing will.

  3. Say cheese — or at least, smile. Smiling is good for your heart. Seriously. (See? We told you! 😈)

  4. Want to keep check of your heart rate? Verywell rates the four best ways to do it. (Little-known fact: your heart beats 100,000 times a day!)

One More Thing

Yes to Men Without Hats. No to Passengers Without Masks.

Until next week, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.

See you next time!

XO Sheryl + Jennifer

We can dance, we can dance
Everybody look at your hands
We can dance, we can dance
Everybody's taking the chance
Safety Dance, Men Without Hats

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