Heart Healthy Advice for Women

ABC News Blogs
Heart Healthy Advice for Women

View photo

Heart Healthy Advice for Women (ABC News)

Doctors used to think of heart disease as a man's problem. Now they know that it strikes men and women in equal numbers.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 cause of death in American women. The disease claims the lives of over 400,000 women each year. That's more than the next three causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.

While deaths from heart disease are declining for men, they are rising for women, the AHA found. Yet women are more likely than men to be both underdiagnosed and undertreated.

ABC New's chief health and medical correspondent, Dr. Richard Besser, held a tweet chat yesterday to raise public awareness for this issue. Health experts from the Mayo Clinic, National Heart Lung Blood Institute, American Heart Association, Every Mother Counts and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City tweeted facts and advice. Olympian and The Heart Truth spokeswoman Gabby Douglas also tweeted her thoughts on the topic, as did women who signed in to share their personal stories.

Here's a summary of four important facts about women and heart disease highlighted in the tweet chat.

Women don't always know they're having a heart attack

Women should understand what a heart attack feels like - and act fast if they experience symptoms. Both sexes may have chest pain, pain that radiates into the shoulders and arms, nausea or dizziness.

"For women, symptoms may be different including shortness of breath, flu like symptoms, jaw, neck & back pain or fatigue," tweeted Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a spokesperson for the AHA.

Women don't always associate physical signs and symptoms with a cardiac event. As a result, the AHA reports that women are 15 percent more likely than men to die of a heart attack. And they are twice as likely to have a second heart attack in the six years following the first.

"Doubt contributes. Women think, 'I can't be having a heart attack,'" tweeted Dr. Andrew Arai, senior investigator for the National Heart Lung Blood Institute.

Can you die of a broken heart? Click here for more info.

Women have heart attacks later in life than men.

The average age for a first attack for a man is 66, AHA statistics show. For women, it's 70.

The risk of a heart attack climbs for women after age 55 when they're past menopause and no longer enjoy the cardio-protective benefits of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen seems to decrease the amount of "bad" LDL cholesterol and increase "good" HDL cholesterol and also helps keep blood vessels healthy and relaxed.

Menopause is the great heart disease equalizer. Once it occurs, estrogen levels drop by 90 percent and the type of estrogen in the body changes, with most of the estrogen being produced by fat cells instead of the ovaries. By age 65 women develop heart disease at the same rate as men.

This doesn't mean that younger women aren't at risk for heart troubles. Studies show Latina women are at risk a full decade earlier than most other women. Chatter Eva Gomez tweeted about going through open heart surgery when she was just 39 years old to fix a malfunctioning heart valve.

Health events during pregnancy can be risk factors later in life. Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure are all conditions that happen during pregnancy, but their effects may linger long after the birth of a child. For example, preeclampsia increases risk of developing heart disease in middle age. Gestational diabetes can lead to glucose intolerance and other pre-diabetic conditions that contribute to obesity.

Reducing heart health risk factors during pregnancy is also essential for the health of your baby.

As the organization Every Mother Counts pointed out in a tweet, "High blood pressure during pregnancy reduces blood flow to the placenta, restricting oxygen and nutrients to the baby." They also noted that hypertension is a top killer of pregnant women worldwide.

Everyone has the same risk factors.

It doesn't matter what sex you are, certain lifestyle behaviors up your chances of developing heart disease. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, family history and older age are considered the "big seven" heart health risk factors.

There's nothing you can do about family history or your age, but you can take control of all the other risk factors.

"Simple prevention advice still applies: Walk more, eat less, sleep more," Dr. Randall Thomas tweeted on behalf of the Mayo Clinic. "One of the best 'medicines' for preventing heart disease is exercise."

Gabby Douglas chimed in with this advice about diet, "Eating healthy is important too. I love to snack on fresh fruits & veggies. Blueberries and snap peas are my favorites!"

One thing all the expert tweeters stressed: Prevention should begin early. Start by knowing your heart numbers, including cholesterol values, blood pressure and body mass index. Eat a heart-healthy diet and exercise regularly.

"You're never too young or too old to start thinking about heart health behaviors," Dr. Julie Ramos, a cardiologist specializing in women's health at Montefiore Medical Center.

For a link to the full chat transcript, click here.

Dr. Besser Tweet Chats on Tuesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. ET

Besser hosts a one-hour "tweet chat" on a health topic most Tuesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. ET. His next chat on "End of Life Issues" takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Want to participate? Here's how.

View Comments (2)

Recommended for You

  • 'Bachelorette' Kaitlyn Bristowe Defends Chris 'Cupcake'

    After Kaitlyn Bristowe dumped Nashville dentist Chris Strandburg on Monday night's episode of "The Bachelorette," she flew away in a helicopter while he hysterically sobbed on a cliff in Ireland. Though he was mercilessly mocked later on social media, Strandburg has a sense of humor about it.

    Good Morning America32 mins ago
  • Taylor Swift Gives Fans Free Tickets After Flight Delay Makes Them Miss London Show

    When two South African Swifties missed her concert at London’s Hyde Park after their flight was delayed, the "Style" singer offered them free tickets to her Dublin show. Stephanie Be and her boyfriend Joe Crann only managed to catch the last three songs of Saturday's show thanks to the travel…

    Good Morning America26 mins ago
  • Officials Search for Amnesiac Woman's Family After Tumor Left Her With No Memory

    Called "Sam," the woman was found in Southern California by firefighters in February and immediately taken to a local hospital, where she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to a Facebook page created to help her find her family. Doctors told her a volleyball-sized ovarian tumor may have…

    Good Morning America33 mins ago
  • Jeremy Renner Opens Up About Divorce and Sexual Preference Rumors

    Jeremy Renner is usually very quiet about his personal life, but did respond to rumors about his sexual preference and open up about his painful divorce in a recent interview with Playboy magazine. When you Google yourself and the first thing that comes up is 'Jeremy Renner gay,' it's like, 'Oh,…

    Good Morning America36 mins ago
  • NY Prison Escape: The Details David Sweat Told Investigators

    Escaped prisoner David Sweat, now in an upstate New York hospital, has revealed to investigators how he and fellow escapee Richard Matt managed to elude authorities in their three weeks on the run. Sweat told authorities he and Matt listened to reports about the manhunt on a radio, a state police…

    Good Morning America40 mins ago
  • Big Bounce in Trampoline Parks Puts Safety in Spotlight

    Trampoline parks are increasingly popular, with scores of them springing up across the country in recent years, but the industry’s rise has been met with concerns from safety advocates. Trampoline parks – venues featuring fixtures that allow you to jump and bounce – initially appeared during the…

    Good Morning America57 mins ago
  • Koala Jumps Behind the Camera in Australia

    A curious koala jumped behind the cameras at an Australian zoo last week, making her the star of the show.The koala can be seen in photos adjusting the camera, jumping on top of it and appearing to looking into the camera's lens at the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby, New South Wales.A park…

    Good Morning America57 mins ago
  • Former University of Virginia Swim Team Member Alleges 'Humiliating and Violent' Hazing in Lawsuit

    A former member of the University of Virginia men’s swimming team filed a lawsuit against five teammates, claiming he feared for his life because their hazing was so extreme. Anthony Marcantonio, 19, left the team over what he claims was horrific hazing. “Systemic, threatening, degrading,…

    Good Morning America59 mins ago
  • Tove Lo Doesn't Mind That the Whole World Is Mispronouncing Her Name

    Tove Lo is one of the biggest breakout music stars of the past year, but you may not be aware that your'e saying her name incorrectly. In her native Sweden, the "Habits" singer's name is pronounced "Too-vah Loo," but she doesn't correct people. ""Seriously, everywhere I go, except Sweden,…

    Good Morning America
  • Apple Music Launch: Hands on With Apple's New Streaming Service

    Apple is continuing to change the landscape of the music industry with its launch today of Apple Music, a streaming service offering members access to tens of millions of songs in the iTunes collection. While Apple is late to the music streaming game, it enters the market with one huge advantage:…

    Good Morning America
  • 'Ghostbusters' Director Paul Feig Tweets First Pictures From Set

    And we have our first look at the new costumes for the "Ghostbusters" reboot, starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.Director Paul Feig tweeted out two pictures, one of the uniforms and the other of the beloved proton packs.Slideshow: Other Stars On SetRelated:…

    Good Morning America
  • Over 100 Dead in Indonesia After Military Plane Crashes in Residential Area

    An Indonesian Air Force C-130 Hercules crashed today into a residential neighborhood in Medan, the country’s third largest city, killing more than 100 people on board, authorities said. For now, Air force chief air marshal Agus Supriatna told ABC News, all 101 passengers and 12 crew members on…

    Good Morning America
  • Leap Second: How Companies Are Preparing For Extra Second Today

    If today feels a bit longer, there's a reason for it.A leap second will be added to the clock to account for a discrepancy between Earth's rotation and the atomic clock.While there have been more than two dozen instances of a leap second being added since 1972, companies relying on their computer…

    Good Morning America
  • 'The Bachelorette' Recap: Kaitlyn Keeps Nick Encounter a Secret as Her Irish Adventures Continue

    Kaitlyn Bristowe had a lot on her mind throughout Monday night's episode of "The Bachelorette" -- specifically, her very romantic date with Nick Viall in Dublin. Kaitlyn was worried that the other men would discover that she slept with Nick in her hotel suite. When Shawn B. visited her at the end…

    Good Morning America
  • Evangeline Lilly Is Pregnant: Star Glows at 'Ant-Man' Premiere

    On Monday night, Evangeline Lilly showed up to the "Ant-Man" carpet and revealed she's expecting her second child.She also posted a couple pictures on Instagram, one rubbing her belly backstage at "Conan."Read: Why Evangeline Lilly Would Be Fine Never Acting AgainShe posted another on the actual…

    Good Morning America
  • What Nick Watt Learned By Traveling the World

    For years, Nick Watt has traveled the globe as a journalist for ABC News. But in his new Travel Channel series, "Watt's World," the TV producer and correspondent had the opportunity to explore places from a completely different perspective. In the new show, which premieres tonight with…

    Good Morning America
  • 12-Year-Old Boy, Born With 1 Arm, Excels on the Field

    Aidan Duncan is happiest when he’s playing sports on a field or court. It could have been because of his umbilical cord wrapping around his arm, they’re not quite sure,” his mother, Mona Mulvany, told “Good Morning America.” “They never did have an exact answer as to why this happened. A…

    Good Morning America