Heart Disease: A Serious Matter for Women

When you think of all of the major health issues facing women today, heart disease is rarely at the top of the list. Breast cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and lupus are many things that come to mind. However, heart disease is actually the number one cause of death among women—and African American women—today. In fact, since the mid-1980s, more women than men have succumbed to heart disease every single year. A few other sobering statistics:

  • Over 90% of women today have one or more risk factors for heart disease.
  • Over 48,000 African American women die from heart disease annually.
  • Less than 40% of African American women know that heart disease is their top health risk.
  • Only 50% of African American women can recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women
  • Only 1 in 8 Hispanic women report that their doctor has every discussed their risk for heart disease.

Risk Factors

There are a number of lifestyle, diet, and natural factors that increase the risk of heart disease. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • High blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • A diet high in salt, saturated fats, and added sugar
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Older age
  • Stress

On top of these factors, there are others that are exclusive to women. These include:

Preventative Measures

Although there is little you can do about factors such as a family history of heart disease or the onset of menopause, you do have direct control over those that are lifestyle or diet-related. Women often are so busy taking care of their immediate and extended family that they forget about their own care. Maintaining a healthier heart involves taking a close look at how you can address specific aspects of your overall wellbeing, such as the following:

  • Exercise more frequently
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat more vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products—and less red meat and saturated fats
  • Avoid smoking
  • Monitor blood pressure—avoid excessive consumption of sodium, calories, and alcohol
  • Consider low-dose aspirin—baby aspirin or half a regular dose of regular aspirin lowers the risk of heart attack by one-third


If you or other women in your family have heart disease, you can still look forward to a high quality of life with proper drug therapies, surgical intervention, and rehabilitation steps.

If you already have some form of heart disease, it’s likely that your physician will prescribe medications for you. These are usually aimed at treating high blood pressure or cholesterol. It’s important to take these medications as directed and to report any unusual side effects to your physician as soon as possible.

If your heart disease is in an advanced stage, you may need a surgical procedure to address it. There are two common heart procedures that aim to improve arterial blood flow—coronary angioplasty and coronary artery bypass graft. Coronary angioplasty involves the insertion of a catheter with a balloon tip into the blocked artery, followed by the inflation of the balloon to unclog the artery. A coronary artery bypass graft procedure involves using a blood vessel taken from another part of the body to create a bypass around the clogged part of an artery.

After a heart procedure—or surviving a heart attack—you will likely be directed by your physician to undergo a cardiac rehabilitation program to build up your strength and stamina. This will usually include exercise training, diet and nutrition guidance, as well as counseling and support to help you manage stress and ongoing risk factors.


Women are often the primary caregivers for their loved ones. However, they need to be more aware of their responsibility to themselves as well, especially when it comes to the threat posed by heart disease. By taking steps to maintain a healthy heart and/or carefully manage a heart condition, you can continue to lead a long and active life.

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