Studies have shown that when it comes to certain conditions, women are likely to ignore their own symptoms, or simply be unaware of the significance of their symptoms. According to a study conducted by the American College of Cardiology, 63% of women are likely to cancel or postpone doctor’s appointments, and 45% were unaware how deadly heart disease can be.
Why is this information important to know? Because a staggering 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
That’s a lot.
February is the month when we #GoRedForWomen to raise awareness. So here are some harsh truths about heart disease, its signs and symptoms, and what you can do to proactively protect your health.
Myth: Heart disease is a real threat for men; for women, it’s cancer.
Fact: We’re not going to downplay the risk factors involved with cancer, but statistically, heart disease is deadlier for women than all the types of cancer combined. 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer and breast cancer will claim the life of 1 in 31 women each year. Heart disease is the cause of 1 out of 3 deaths.
Myth: Heart disease is something you don’t have to worry about until you’re old and gray.
Fact: If you’re a woman and you’re reading this, you’re at risk. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Smoking will increase your risk by 20%. That said, age does play a factor in the likelihood of your developing disease, particularly in concert with other risk factors like a sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
Estrogen also plays a role—it serves as natural protection against heart disease, but drops off once a woman hits menopause. But even if you’re running marathons every other day and on a strictly vegan diet, it might still develop.
Myth: If I’m physically fit, I don’t need to worry about heart disease.
Fact: We wish that it were that easy. Unfortunately, and despite what society would like us to believe, “fit” is not synonymous with healthy. Cholesterol can be high in thin people as easily as not-so-thin people. If you smoke, have poor eating habits, or a family history, then you’re a candidate for heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, women should start getting their cholesterol checked once they reach age 20, and earlier if there is a family history. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on your blood pressure.
Myth: I don’t have any symptoms so I don’t need to worry.
Fact: The way heart disease presents in men and women is vastly different. In the movies, anytime someone has a heart attack, they grasp their chest in pure Hollywood fashion, fall to their knees, and everyone in vicinity knows exactly what’s happening.
Men might experience chest pain with heart disease, but a whopping 64% of women who die from heart disease had no previous symptoms. Women might experience symptoms that seem completely unrelated to the heart, such as shortness of breath, back/jaw pain, dizziness, pain in the lower chest/upper abdomen, extreme fatigue, and nausea/vomiting.
Good thing those symptoms aren’t subtle or applicable to an untold number of other diseases, right? Except they are. This is why getting your cholesterol checked on a regular basis is so important. If you know you’re at risk, you are better prepared to diagnose the symptoms.
Myth: I have a family history of heart disease, so there’s really nothing I can do but sit back and wait for it to strike.
Fact: Yes, having a family history does increase your risk, but you can fight back. Knowing the signs and making healthy choices can be the difference between someone taken by heart disease and someone who survives heart disease. Be one of the people who survives by being cognizant of your risk.
Here are the risk factors you absolutely can’t change:
- Family history
- Previous stroke/heart attack
Here are the facts you can do something about:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physically inactive
- Obesity or overweight
Visit www.goredforwomen.org to learn more about heart disease in women, or schedule an appointment with Advanced Family Medicine. Let us know your concerns, the risk factors you’ve identified, and we will come up with a preventative action plan to ensure you don’t become a statistic.