But there are some commonly held misconceptions standing in their way.
Here, Dr. Darryl Dias, an invasive cardiologist with St. Elizabeth Healthcare, highlights the top four myths he hears about heart disease in women and sets the record straight.
Myth No. 1 – Cancer is the leading cause of death in women in the United States.
Heart disease, a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries and limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other organs, is actually the leading cause of death in women in America. In fact, it’s the biggest health threat to women over the age of 25.
“That’s something many women do not know,” Dias said. “We have to inform the public about it, and many people are shocked to hear it.”
Many, many people believe cancer is the leading cause of death in women, Dias noted, but, in reality, one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, while one in three dies from heart disease. And heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined.
Myth No. 2 – Exercise alone will prevent heart disease.
Although exercise will certainly help prevent the deadly disease, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. At all.
Risk factors for heart disease in women include diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, a high bad cholesterol (or LDL) level, a low good cholesterol (or HDL) level, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and a family history of heart disease.
So, even if you exercise five days a week, if you have high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease, you’re still at risk.
And, Dias stressed, 90 percent of women have at least one of these risk factors.
Heart disease can affect women of all ages, and women who are diabetic and smoke, or are on birth control and smoke, increase their risk of heart disease exponentially.
Myth No. 3 – If it runs in the family, it can’t be prevented.
Sure, a family history of heart disease puts you at risk for heart disease, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee. There are behaviors you can modify, Dias stressed, to dramatically reduce your risk, such as quitting smoking, getting active and making healthier food choices.
“Don’t just assume you’re going to have it because everyone else has had it and that’s it,” Dias said.
Other things you can do to help decrease your risk are checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
Myth No. 4 – The symptoms of heart disease are the same for men and women.
Although it’s true that many of the symptoms are the same, there can be some differences.
In general, heart disease symptoms include pressure, tightness or a squeezing pain in the center or on both sides of the chest that can last for a few minutes or come and go, pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, back, jaw and stomach, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating and light-headedness.
Any pain, pressure or discomfort in the areas of the chest, arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach that comes on suddenly and intensely and eases with rest can be concerning of heart disease, Dias said, and you should seek medical attention.
But some women experience more shortness of breath and fatigue with heart disease than their male counterparts, so don’t discount those as less-important symptoms.
Also, some patients will have symptoms and some patients won’t, so it’s important to know your risk.
Knowledge is power when it comes to heart disease. Learn the facts and learn your risk to stop heart disease in its tracks.
Attend Love Your Heart, Lengthen Your Life on Thursday, July 20, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the St. Elizabeth Training & Education Center in Erlanger (3861 Olympic Blvd.) to learn more about protecting your heart from heart disease. Light refreshments will be served. Seating is limited and registration is required. To reserve your seat, register online at stelizabeth.com/heartevent or call 859-301-WELL (9355).