The Heart Truth: Women and Heart Disease The Heart Truth: Women and Heart Disease
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Heart Disease and Women’s Risk
Coronary heart disease is the main form of heart disease. It develops over many years and affects the blood vessels of the heart. It can result in heart attack, disability, and death. A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.

Often called “heart disease,” coronary heart disease is one of various cardiovascular diseases, which are diseases of the heart and blood vessel system. Other cardiovascular diseases include stroke, high blood pressure, and rheumatic heart disease.

Many women fail to recognize the seriousness of heart disease. One reason may be the common misperception that heart disease can be “cured” with surgery. Bypass surgery and angioplasty can help restore blood and oxygen flow to the heart. However, blood vessels remain damaged, which means women are more likely to have a heart attack.

Once developed, heart disease can be managed, but it cannot be cured. Without lifestyle changes, such as not smoking, following a heart healthy eating plan, and being physically active, heart disease will likely steadily worsen. One in three women dies from heart disease.

Heart Disease Risk Factors
Risk factors are habits or conditions that increase the chance of developing a disease. Many of the risk factors for heart disease can be prevented or controlled. The heart disease risk factors do not add their effects simply-they multiply them. Having more than one risk factor is especially serious. Women should talk to a health professional about their individual risks and how to lower them.
Risk factors for heart disease are:

High blood pressure
High blood cholesterol
Physical inactivity
Family history of early coronary heart disease
Age (for women, 55 and older)
Women’s Heart Disease Statistics
Women often do not take their risk of heart disease seriously-or personally. They fail to make the connection between the risk factors and their own chance of developing heart disease.

The Heart Truth is:

Heart disease is the #1 killer of American women.

One in every three women dies of heart disease. One in 30 dies of breast cancer.

Women’s heart disease risk starts to rise in middle age.

About 3 million American women have had a heart attack.

Two-thirds of American women who have had a heart attack don’t make a full recovery.
Nearly two-thirds of American women who die suddenly of a heart attack had no prior symptoms.

Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent just by leading a healthy lifestyle.

Awareness of heart disease as the leading cause of death has increased from 30 percent in 1997 to 46 percent in 2003.

Only 13 percent of women consider heart disease to be their own greatest health risk.

For More Information

For more information, visit NHLBI’s The Heart Truth Web pages at
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