October was breast cancer month — a great time to recognize that one in four women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and that all women should be propered screened.
But breast cancer is not the greatest threat to your health as a woman — heart disease is. While we have reduced heart disease rates across the board, women continue to outpace men in developing heart problems. And more U.S. women than men die from heart disease every year. The most recent data comparing men and women from the National Center for Health Statistics show that 387,000 men died from the disease in 2009, but nearly 402,000 women succumbed to heart disease that same year.
Women are undertreated and underserved when compared to men with similar heart disease symptoms and risk factors, and men are more likely to have advanced heart procedures and get better care.
My latest book, Women and Cardiovascular Disease: Addressing Disparities in Care, is designed to educate both consumers and their healthcare providers about heart disease risk in women. I explore the epidemic problem of female heart disease, discuss disparities in care, identify root causes of these gender disparities, and offer solutions. Most importantly, I hope to motivate women to become engaged in their own healthcare, and all of us to advocate for the women in our lives when it comes to heart health.
How Big a Problem Is Heart Disease in Women?While most women worry about their risk of dying from breast or uterine cancer, heart disease is the No.1 killer of U.S. women today. Heart disease can be more difficult to diagnose in women because symptoms are different — instead of chest pain and shortness of breath, women who are having heart attacks or developing other heart problems may experience fatigue, feelings of dread, or flu-like symptoms.
Healthcare providers often do not recognize the symptoms in women, and studies show treatment in women is not as aggressive.
That’s why it’s critical to understand your heart risk as a woman. Physicians must create an environment of effective communication. Everyone — women and their healthcare providers — must recognize that women are at significant risk. And we must apply practice guidelines equally to both genders.
Your Heart Disease ChecklistFirst, we have to ensure that every woman is aware of her risk and has a plan. This simple checklist will help.
- Know and understand your heart disease risk. Here are the main risk factors for women (and men):
- family history of heart disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- overweight or obesity
- Once you have identified your individual risk factors, work with your physician to modify the risks you can change (such as weight and blood pressure).
Moreover, we must change U.S. attitudes concerning heart disease in women and raise awareness in our communities to improve outcomes for women. Through education, advocacy and research we will make a difference for women with heart disease.
Kevin Campbell, MD, FACC, is an internationally recognized cardiologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm disorders. Dr. Campbell is the Medical Expert for WNCN in Raleigh, N.C., and appears weekly on the channel’s NBC17 morning news. He also appears frequently on Fox News, CBS, and HLN. He is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Department of Medicine in Raleigh, and president of K-Roc Consulting, LLC. Follow Dr. Campbell on Twitter and find him on Facebook.