Heart Disease: The #1 Killer of Women

Your health matters, and for women, heart disease is the leading threat. Yet, it often goes unnoticed. Recognizing early signs of heart disease, like chest pain and shortness of breath, is crucial. Take action to protect your heart: manage stress with activities like meditation, monitor blood pressure, embrace a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly, and quit smoking. Prioritize your heart health; consult a healthcare professional if you experience any concerning symptoms or want to learn more about safeguarding your heart. It's time to be proactive and guard your well-being.
woman holding stuffed heart

Your heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, taking essential nutrients and oxygen to the organs and systems that need it. Heart health is one of the most important facets of a healthy lifestyle and body, yet it often goes unnoticed. Particularly for women, maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system is crucial, as heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. In this article, we will discuss the prevalence of heart disease in women, including risk factors and common symptoms. We will also explore the role of preventative measures and early identification for mitigating the risk of heart disease in women. 

The Prevalence of Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease is an indiscriminate adversary, affecting individuals across age, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds. However, the prevalence of heart disease in women is particularly alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 60 million women in the United States are living with some form of heart disease. The Office of Women’s Health notes that cardiovascular disease is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 female deaths. These staggering numbers emphasize the need for comprehensive preventive measures and early detection.

Risk Factors for Women

Though there are common risk factors shared between men and women, like obesity, some factors exclusively affect women. Hormonal changes during menopause can negatively impact cholesterol levels and blood pressure, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, can double the risk of developing heart disease later in life. Unlike many other risk factors, these factors cannot be avoided or mitigated with lifestyle changes.

Challenges in Diagnosing Heart Disease in Women

Beyond the increased risks, there are also challenges in diagnosing heart disease in women, making it a silent killer for many. The symptoms of heart disease in women are often subtle and abnormal, leading to delayed diagnosis and exacerbation of the condition. Symptoms of heart disease in women do not include chest pain, as is typical for heart attacks in men. Rather, symptoms may include shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and discomfort in the neck, jaw, or upper back. Additionally, women often experience “silent” heart attacks with no obvious symptoms. This can lead to delayed intervention and worsened outcomes for women. Heart disease is also misassociated with men, leading to an underrecognition of symptoms and delayed medical attention for women.

Confronting these challenges and understanding the various risk factors affecting women is crucial in preventing and diagnosing heart disease early in both men and women. 

Prevention and Lifestyle Changes

Prevention and early intervention are the keys to improving outcomes for women. Through regular screenings, lifestyle modifications, and effective stress management, women can make informed choices about their health and mitigate their risk of developing heart disease.

1. Regular Check-ups and Screenings

Staying on top of regular health appointments enables healthcare professionals to monitor key indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar. This facilitates early detection of potential cardiovascular issues, allowing for early intervention. This early intervention is crucial for preventing the progression of the disease. Many medical professionals also conduct tailored screenings for high-risk groups, like post-menopausal women. These screenings are more in-depth and can contribute to early intervention and improved outcomes.

2. Healthy Lifestyle Choices for Heart Health

A healthy lifestyle is crucial to your heart health and overall well-being. Regular physical activity, like cardio and aerobic exercises, strengthens the heart muscles and improves cardiovascular well-being. Adopting a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lead proteins can promote a healthy cardiovascular system. These foods contain necessary nutrients and minerals that can reduce cholesterol and control blood pressure. A healthy diet and regular exercise also contribute to weight management, a risk factor for heart disease.

3. Stress Management for Cardiovascular Health

There is also a link between chronic stress and heart disease. Stress increases cortisol levels, increasing blood pressure and reducing good cholesterol. These factors are among the leading contributors to heart disease. Effective stress management can reduce one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease and promote mental health. Try walking, meditating, or yoga to reduce stress and promote overall mental well-being.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. However, there are tactics women can use to reduce their risk of developing a serious cardiovascular condition. Use these strategies today to promote your heart health!

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Dr. Michael Tenison

A series of notable accomplishments distinguish Dr. Michael Tenison’s career in medical operations and healthcare management:

  • Successfully led medical operations at a national healthcare provider, focusing on optimizing healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.
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Dr. Matt Feeley is a renowned figure in military aviation medicine, with a robust background in occupational and environmental medicine from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

  • Former Naval Flight Surgeon, exemplifying his expertise in aerospace medicine and commitment to military health.
  • Served with distinction at NSA Bahrain and HSM-37, earning the COMPACFLT Flight Surgeon of the Year award for exceptional medical service.
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Dr. Glen Cheng

A physician-attorney with a dedication to healthcare innovation, informatics, and digital health.

  • Currently spearheads employee health protection and promotion within the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.
  • Trained in residency at Harvard, achieving board certification as a physician; also a licensed patent attorney with experience as FDA regulatory counsel.
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Erin Davis

 Chief Clinical Officer at Work Health Solutions, certified in Adult-Gerontology (AGNP-C) and Athletic Training (ATC).

  • Oversees clinical operations and ensures high clinical standards across the company’s national field staff.
  • Former Manager of Clinic Operations and Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner at Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC).
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  • Assistant Clinical Faculty at UCSF, mentoring students in clinical rotations within the Adult Gerontology and Occupational and Environmental Health Program.
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Expert in benefits design and onsite innovation with specialization in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Previous role as Executive Director for Employee Health at Novartis Services, Inc., leading health services and clinical support.
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  • Published works on occupational health risks, primary prevention, and exercise-induced asthma.