Heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined.
An estimated one in four women dies from heart disease; breast cancer, on the other hand, is the cause of death for one in thirty women, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
In fact, more women die from heart disease and stroke than all cancers combined, says Richard Snyder, M.D., board-certified family practice physician and chief medical officer at Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia.
Heart disease also doesn’t discriminate – it’s the leading cause of death for both African American and white women; and the second leading cause of death, only behind cancer, for all other races, including Hispanic and Asian women.
Also, women of all ages and races aren’t talking to their doctors about their risk enough: Only 6 percent of women ages 25 to 34 admitted to doing so; that number only rose to 33 percent for women over the age of 65.
Nine out of 10 women have at least one risk factor.
Underlying heart conditions, birth control pills, smoking, a poor diet, and a lack of exercise can all contribute to heart disease in women – and 90 percent of all women have at least one of those risk factors, according to the AHA.
Still, heart disease can strike in women who don’t have a risk factor too. A small study published by the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Canada found that 48 percent of participants – who were young with no known heart disease risk factors – already had signs of atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), which is often one of the first signs of cardiovascular disease.
However, the study also discovered an easy way to determine if you’re likely to have thickening blood vessels: measure your waist and hips. Participants with early signs of heart disease tended to have hip measurements that were smaller than, or almost the same as, their waist.
Routine screenings should begin in your 20s
A recent national survey released by Orlando Health revealed that 60 percent of women thought heart screenings weren’t recommended until after age 30 – but that’s not the case.
Experts actually recommend that screenings should begin at age 20. “Heart problems begin developing in our teens and early twenties,” says Maria Carolina Demori, M.D., cardiologist at Orlando Health Heart Institute. “If we don’t take action and start preventing the progression of that process, it’s only going to get worse.”
Those heart screenings can be included in regular checkups with your primary care physician, says Demori, and should include your doctor monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and glucose levels. The AHA also recommends undergoing an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) yearly if you have a family history of the disease or multiple risk factors.