An estimated 42 million American women live with cardiovascular disease, but too many are unaware of the threat they face.
There is an urgent need for greater awareness of heart disease in women and for immediate efforts to eliminate the disparities in women's heart care. Recent research shows that in contrast to encouraging trends in nearly every other segment of the population, heart disease among women ages 35 to 44 is increasing.
Here are some other facts about women and cardiovascular disease that might surprise you:
■ One in three women older than 20 has some form of cardiovascular disease. It strikes women at younger ages than most people think, and the risk rises in middle age.
■ Worldwide, cardiovascular disease is the single most common cause of death among women, regardless of race and ethnicity.
■ More than 200,000 women die each year from heart attacks — five times more than deaths from breast cancer.
■ More women than men die of heart disease each year.
That's why it's good to remember what we already know about heart disease:
■ Heart disease is preventable.
■ You can identify your risks and reduce them.
Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and a family history of heart disease.
The unhealthy habits that lead to heart disease start early in life. The sooner you start eating better and exercising regularly, the better.
Women are more likely than men to have diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure.
If they suffer a heart attack, getting immediate help is crucial.
Heart attack symptoms in women differ from those for men. Chest pain remains the most common symptom, but women also frequently experience fatigue, which in the days leading up to a heart attack can prevent women from doing even simple tasks.
Other symptoms include indigestion, pain in the shoulder, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, and repeated discomfort above the waist with exertion.
Many women can significantly reduce their risk of heart disease if they have the information they need, know the questions to ask their health providers and receive the support to make heart-smart changes in their lives.
Dr. Paula Hollingsworth, an interventional cardiologist with Lexington Cardiology at Central Baptist, is medical director of the Baptist Heart and Vascular Institute at Central Baptist Hospital.