Helping Women Reduce Their Leading Cause of Death
Intermountain Health experts encourage women to recognize risk of heart disease and take steps to improve their health
Salt Lake City, UT (PRUnderground) February 3rd, 2023
“Heart disease is a man’s disease.” “I’m too young.” “Breast cancer is my real threat.”
Common thoughts, and despite increases in awareness over the past decades, only about half (56%) of women recognize that heart disease is their leading killer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Heart disease is a killer that strikes more women than men and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined,” said Kismet Rasmusson is a nurse practitioner with the Intermountain Health Heart and Vascular Program. “While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease is the cause of one out of every three deaths. That’s roughly one death each minute.”
Heart disease affects women of all ages. For younger women, the combination of birth control pills and smoking boosts heart disease risks by 20 percent. And while the risks do increase with age, things like overeating and a sedentary lifestyle can cause plaque to accumulate and lead to clogged arteries later in life. But even if you lead a completely healthy lifestyles, being born with an underlying heart condition can be a risk factor.
Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. Because these symptoms vary greatly between men and women, they’re often misunderstood.
“Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain,” said Rasmusson. “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, feeling lightheaded or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
Major risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, obesity or being overweight, smoking, physical inactivity, heredity, and age. Factors that could lead to an increased risk include stress and excessive alcohol consumption. For women, that means more than one drink a day.
“Your best bet for fighting heart disease is to know which risk factors affect you,” said Rasmusson. “The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk for heart disease.”
Rasmusson said that starting at age 20, women should know their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. One red flag is a high level of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which clogs arteries, and a low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which clears arteries.
“Knowing your risk factors empowers you to make simple lifestyle changes to keep your heart healthy.” Said Rasmusson. She suggest the following:
- Reach and keep a healthy weight. You’ll reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes risk, hitting three key risk factors at once.
- Trim saturated fat and salt from your diet. When you can, trade butter for heart-healthy canola or olive oil. Swap red meat for seafood, a good source of omega-3 fats that help reduce triglycerides, clotting, and blood pressure.
- Move more. Exercising at a moderate to high intensity for 40 minutes on average, 3 to 4 days a week, can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your heart, decrease stress, and result in weight loss.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is the most common risk factor for women and triples your heart attack risk.
- De-stress daily. Finding ways to defuse stress will help slow your breathing and heart rate as you lower your blood pressure.
“Although women with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, there’s plenty you can do to dramatically reduce it. Simply create an action plan to keep your heart healthy. Because of healthy choices and knowing the signs, more than 670,000 of women have been saved from heart disease, and 300 fewer are dying per day,” said Rasmusson.
About Intermountain Health
Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., www.intermountainhealth.org is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called SelectHealth with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/news.