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Women and Heart Health Awareness

Feb 6, 2014, 8:56 a.m.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a "man's disease," around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 56 percent of women recognize that heart disease is their No. 1 killer. That's why it's important to know the signs and symptoms and how to lower your risk for heart disease.

Heart disease symptoms in women

While some women have no symptoms of heart disease, others get dull, heavy to sharp chest pain or discomfort, pain in the neck/jaw/throat, or pain in the upper abdomen or back. These symptoms may occur during rest or physical activity, or be triggered by mental stress.

Women are more likely to describe chest pain that is sharp and burning and more often have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back.

Sometimes heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until a woman has signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), or stroke.

Know your risk for heart disease and heart attack

Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are risk factors for heart disease.

Smoking, poor diet, obesity, excess alcohol, and being physically inactive are also risk factors for heart disease.

Heredity can also be a risk factor because heart disease can run in families.

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National Vital Statistics System, US Census Bureau, 2010.

Among women, black women are at highest risk of dying early from heart disease and stroke (78 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), followed by American Indian/Alaska Native (46 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), White (36 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), Hispanic (30 preventable deaths per 100,000 people), and Asian/Pacific Islander women (22 preventable deaths per 100,000 people).

Take steps to learn more

Know your risk factors, make healthy choices, and lower your chances for having a heart attack or stroke.

See your health care provider for a checkup, especially if you have any risk factors or symptoms.

Talk to your health care provider and ask questions to better understand your health.

Know your family history. There may be factors that could increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Make healthy choices every day

You can lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack by taking simple steps every day.

Eat a healthy diet.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Be active. Exercise regularly.

Be tobacco-free. Get help if needed. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

Limit alcohol use.

Manage any medical condition you might have. Learn the ABCS of health. Keep them in mind every day and especially when you talk to your health provider:

Appropriate aspirin therapy for those who need it

Blood pressure control

Cholesterol management

Smoking cessation

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