Heart disease killed more than 432,000 US women in 2006—roughly one woman per minute. Women over age 20 have more than a one in three chance of dying from cardiovascular disease.
Long considered a man’s disease, awareness efforts have helped many people understand that heart disease is very much a women’s disease. It often manifests differently in men and women making the signs harder to recognize and delaying diagnosis in women. And while heart disease kills more women than men in the US, vast disparities still exist in the care of women with heart disease, their treatment after cardiac events such as heart attack, and their representation in clinical trials.
More women today know about the factors that increase their risk of heart disease, including diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, these conditions are on the rise among American women. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 11.5 million women in the US are diabetic; more than half of white, black, and Hispanic women (58%, 80% and 78% respectively) are overweight or obese; 48% of women have borderline high cholesterol; 39% of women have high blood pressure; and many women (50% white, 64% black, and 60% Hispanic) are sedentary and get no physical activity.
Heart disease is largely preventable and individual efforts can make a difference. Ob-gyns are encouraged to discuss heart disease with their patients, the health problems that may contribute to it, and steps to improve their heart health. Women who know their health indicator numbers—such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol and sugar levels—are better equipped to tackle personal risk factors and work with their doctors to improve them.
Healthy lifestyle habits play an important role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Women should aim to consume a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats, cholesterol, and refined carbohydrates. They should also get 30 to 90 minutes of exercise on most days of the week and quit smoking.
For more information on heart disease, go to www.americanheart.org.
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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 53,000 members, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.