Heart disease rates have been declining over the last few decades in the United States, but there remain some concerning trends. For one, the rate of dying from heart disease for women has not declined as rapidly as it has for men. The result is that for the past 20 years or so, more American women die of heart disease than men every year.  In fact, approximately one in three women are expected to die from heart disease.  In comparison, approximately one in 30 women are expected to die of breast cancer.

Knowing the signs

It’s critical that women know the signs of a heart attack. Women who suffer a heart attack are less likely to experience chest pain than men.  While chest pain is still the most common symptom in women, about one in five women having a heart attack will experience other signs such as pain elsewhere on the upper body, like arms, back, neck or jaw. They might also feel shortness of breath without chest pain, or nausea and cold sweats.  It is important to recognize these other potential symptoms as women who are having a heart attack are less likely than men to call 911.

The good news.

You CAN reduce your risk of heart disease – most risk factors are well-known and most are treatable.  The biggest single contributor? Uncontrolled high blood pressure. But high blood pressure is manageable with lifestyle changes and medications.  Regular exercise with a balanced diet low in salt can significantly lower blood pressure.

Regular exercise with a well-balanced diet also helps you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, and improve your blood sugar – all of which will help reduce your risk of heart disease.  If you have a parent or sibling with early heart disease, these healthy lifestyle choices take on even greater importance since you can’t control your genes.

Visit our website for more information on our Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute, and how we can help you. For more information on reducing your risk for heart disease, the American Heart Association has extensive patient education information on their website, including a special Go Red for Women section.

So this month, and always, be good to your heart.

George T Charlton, MD, FACC

George T Charlton, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist with the Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute at Newport Hospital.