Heart Disease And Women
The Heart Truth For Women: It's Ageless
One in three American women dies of heart disease, making it the #1 killer. That’s The
Heart Truth. It’s also true that heart disease is "ageless." Whatever a woman’s age,
she needs to take action 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 Box). Heart disease doesn’t stop developing either - unless treated, it
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 steps against
heart disease. By taking action, 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, start taking steps to improve your heart health.
Here’s more about how heart disease and its risk factors can affect women of
- 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
those of the same age who have not yet undergone menopause.
- Menopausal 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
- Beginning at age 45, more women than men have a total cholesterol over 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.
- 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 angio
plasty, is performed, heart disease will worsen unless treated with lifestyle changes
- About 35 percent of women who have had a heart attack will have another within
- 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 can
not 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 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 hypertension,
the condition’s medical name; 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
- Overweight/obesity - about 62 percent of women are overweight,
including about 33 percent who are obese
- Physical inactivity - more women than men are physically inactive,
with more than 25 percent of women engaging in no leisure-time
physical activity and more than 60 percent of women do not meet
the recommended amount of at least 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
To learn more about heart disease and how to lower your risk:
Chat with other women
Additional reading: High Cholesterol: Prevention and Treatment
Power Surge Recommendations for a healthier heart
Reference: The National Women's Health Information Center