Washington, Feb 2: Most women believe cancer is the No. 1 cause of death, but experts say that heart disease has killed more women than all forms of cancer combined, and many of these deaths are preventable.
“One of every three women will die of heart disease,” said Donna Arnett, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.
Arnett, who is president-elect of the American Heart Association, says one in eight women get breast cancer and as many as 94percent survive, yet women are more afraid of cancer than heart disease.
“I think with all the media coverage of breast cancer, women are unaware that heart disease actually kills more women, young and old,” Arnett noted.
Vera Bittner, M.D., professor of medicine in UAB’s Division of Cardiovascular Disease and section head of Preventive Cardiology said, “For some reason women still don’t perceive themselves to be at risk for heart disease.”
“Women see it as a men’s disease, and they are more likely to interpret chest discomfort as coming from indigestion instead of a heart attack,” says Bittner.
Symptoms of a heart attack in woman also may differ from those in men.
“Many women may not have the classic chest pain or jaw discomfort. Women may often have more nausea and vomiting or back pain than men,” Arnett explained.
To combat the onset of the disease, Arnett points to the Life’s Simple 7 plan, which focuses on managing blood pressure, reducing blood sugar, quitting smoking, losing weight, getting active, controlling cholesterol and eating better.
But the good news is Arnett and Bittner say this disease is preventable.
“A lot of people think if they are genetically predisposed, that is a fate they cannot alter, and that is not true. The patient has a lot of control,” Bittner said.
The heart-healthy focus needs to start as young as childhood. Any risk factors you have as a kid can become exaggerated as an adult, she stated.
“We like to do primordial prevention, which is prevention of risk factors themselves. In the younger age groups the focus needs to be on lifestyle – getting regular exercise, having a heart healthy diet, maintaining normal weight and staying away from smoking,” Bittner said.
Arnett added “If you make it to age 50 with normal cholesterol levels, are non-diabetic, not hypertensive or overweight, have a healthy diet, get physical activity and have never smoked, then your chances of developing heart disease are close to zero.” (ANI)