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Nearly half of American women unaware of #1 health threat

Getty Images/iStockphoto/VladimirFLoyd

Despite years of public awareness campaigns, celebrity spokeswomen and red dress events, nearly 1 out of 2 American women cannot correctly pinpoint heart disease as the leading cause of death among females, says the CDC. And that lack of recognition is killing them.

“Many women still consider heart disease a ‘man’s disease,’” says Jennifer L. Ellis, MD, a cardiac surgeon at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “Yet women account for more than half of all heart fatalities each year.”

In fact, heart disease kills more women annually than all forms of cancer combined. Statistics further show that more than one out of every three women has some form of cardiovascular disease, causing one out of every four female deaths each year. Experts suggest that many of those fatalities could have been prevented with early detection and intervention. Part of the problem lies in the nature of heart disease in women.

“Women’s symptoms are often more subtle and harder to discern than men’s,” Dr. Ellis continues. “As a result, women are more likely to dismiss heart disease as the cause of their symptoms.”

That delay in recognition can have serious, even deadly, consequences. Because many women brush off their symptoms, they are more likely to have a silent heart attack or die during their first heart attack.

To protect themselves, women need to know the following signs that they may be having a heart attack:

• Uncomfortable squeezing or pressure in the chest. Women often don’t experience the crushing chest pain described by men.
• Pain in the jaw, neck, arm, back or abdomen
• Unexplained exhaustion
• Unusual sweating
• Nausea unrelated to diet
• Feeling out of breath during normal activities
• Dizziness or fainting, which may be caused by irregular heartbeats
• Palpitations or rapid heartbeats

If you ever experience any of these symptoms, it’s better to be safe than sorry: Call 911 immediately.

For more information on the impact of heart disease for women, visit MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute.