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Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States, taking the lives of 500,000 women each year. It is estimated that almost 1 in 2 women will eventually die of heart -disease or stroke.

Heart disease is mostly preventable, so understanding these serious health threats can make a life-saving difference.

The American Heart Association has identified several factors that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The more risk factors a woman has, the greater her risk of a heart attack or stroke. Some of these risk factors can't be controlled, such as increasing age, family health history, and race and gender. But others can be modified, treated or controlled to lower risk of more serious heart disease.

Risk factors that can be controlled include:

  • Smoking
    Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smoking even as few as 1-15 cigarettes daily triples the risk of a heart attack. When you stop smoking, that risk returns to normal over time.

  • Physical inactivity
    Active women who exercise regularly have a significantly lower risk of heart disease than inactive women. Even moderate amounts of activity, performed regularly, lead to a measurable benefit.

  • Obesity, overweight
    Women who are overweight are more likely to develop heart disease, even without any other risk factors. Plus, excess body weight raises cholesterol and blood pressure, and raises the risk of developing diabetes.

  • Stress
    High levels of sustained stress can make women more susceptible to serious disorders such as cardiovascular disease.

  • High blood pressure
    Almost one-third of American women have high blood pressure. If uncontrolled, high blood pressure can significantly increase the risk of heart attack, congestive heart failure and stroke.

  • Cholesterol levels
    Elevations in total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL (so called "bad cholesterol") all raise women's risks of heart attack and stroke.

  • Diabetes
    Diabetes increases the risk of developing heart disease as much as 2-4 times. If you have diabetes, your physician will work with you to carefully control not only your diabetes, but other risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart or vascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.