Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in America. That’s the heart truth. Heart disease is “ageless.” Whatever a woman’s age, she needs to protect her heart health.
Coronary heart disease is the most common form of heart disease. Often referred to simply as “heart disease,” it develops over time and can start as early as the teenage years. During mid-life, a woman’s risk for heart disease starts to rise dramatically. In part, this is because a woman’s body stops producing estrogen. Also, mid-life is a time when women tend to develop factors that increase their risk for heart disease (see below).
Unless treated, heart disease continues to worsen. One in 14 women aged 45-64 has heart disease, and this increases to 1 in 7 for women over age 65. But it’s never too late to take action against heart disease. Older women and especially those who already have heart disease can reduce their risk of developing heart-related problems.
Often, making lifestyle changes is all that’s needed. In fact, women can lower their heart disease risk by as much as 82 percent just by leading a healthy lifestyle.
So, whatever your age, take action to improve your heart health. Here’s more about heart disease and how its risk factors can affect women of every age:
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- Lifestyle-related factors that increase heart disease risk are increasingly common among girls, teenagers, and young adults.
- Physical activity levels drop sharply as girls become teenagers, and about 14 percent of young women are physically inactive.
- Almost 15 percent of girls ages 6-19 are overweight.
- About 30 percent of girls in grades 9-12 reported using tobacco in 2001; about 80 percent of smokers begin before age 18.
- At menopause, a woman’s heart disease risk starts to increase significantly.
- Each year, about 88,000 women ages 45-64 have a heart attack.
- About half of women who have a heart attack before age 65 die within 8 years.
- Heart disease rates are 2-3 times higher for postmenopausal women than for women of the same age who have not yet undergone menopause.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy (with estrogen alone or with progestin), once thought to lower risk, is not recommended for long-term use to prevent heart disease. It is now even more vital that women take other steps to reduce their heart disease risk.
- The lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure for women aged 55 is about 90 percent.
- Beginning at age 45, more women than men have a total cholesterol of 200 md/dL (borderline high) or higher.
- About 24 million women aged 60 and older have high blood pressure.
- Most women over age 65 have obvious heart disease or “silent” atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”). In silent atherosclerosis, there are no symptoms but fatty plaques have built up in arteries. Lowering cholesterol is especially important to keep heart disease and atherosclerosis from worsening.
- Each year, about 372,000 women aged 65 and older have a heart attack.
- Heart disease rates are 2-3 times higher for postmenopausal women than for those of the same age who have not yet undergone menopause.
- The average age for women to have a first heart attack is about 70—and women are more likely than men to die within a few weeks of a heart attack.
For Women with Heart Disease:
- About 6.7 million American women have heart disease.
- Heart disease has no quick fix. Even if a special procedure, such as an angioplasty, is performed, heart disease will worsen unless treated with lifestyle changes and medication.
- About 35 percent of women who have had a heart attack will have another within 6 years.
- About half of women who have a heart attack will be disabled with heart failure within 6 years. Heart failure is a life-threatening condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs.
Factors that Increase Women's Heart Disease Risk
Those beyond your control:
- Family history of early heart disease
- Being age 55 or older
Those you can take action against:
- Smoking—about 22.6 million women smoke.
- High blood pressure—about 25 percent of women have high blood pressure, or hypertension. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, which affects about 2.5 million women.
- High blood cholesterol—about 55.5 million women have high total cholesterol.
- Overweight/obesity—about 62 percent of women are overweight, including about 33 percent who are obese. Keep your body mass index (BMI) in the normal range. To calculate your, visit RMHOnline.com BMI Calculator.
- Physical inactivity—more women than men are physically inactive, with more than 25 percent of women engaging in no leisure-time physical activity. More than 60 percent of women do not get the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderately intense physical activity, such as brisk walking.
- Diabetes—nearly 6 million women have been diagnosed with diabetes and another 2.8 million are undiagnosed.
For more information on women and heart disease, click here.
To learn more about heart disease and how to lower your risk:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
301-592-8573, TTY: 240-629-3255
Office on Women’s Health, DHHS
National Women’s Health Information Center
1-800-994-WOMAN, TDD: 1-888-220-5446
American Heart Association
WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease