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Hey Lady Have a Heart

Quick, what’s the biggest killer of women? Nope, not breast cancer. Though a dangerous disease and well deserving of all the marketing it gets through the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the whole “pink” phenomenon, breast cancer takes the lives of one out of 31 women in the United States each year, while heart disease claims one in three, according to the American Heart Association.

In fact, heart disease takes the lives of more women per year than all forms of cancer combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), 24.8 percent of female deaths in the United States were caused by heart disease, followed by 21.7 percent for cancer and 6.5 percent for stroke. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease kills about 450,000 women in the United States each year, which is about one every minute. By comparison, the American Cancer Society estimates 39,510 women in the United States died of breast cancer in 2012. In Connecticut, 13 women die of heart disease each day.

And here’s the even scarier part: According to the American Heart Association, 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Those kinds of statistics might tempt you to think there’s nothing you can do to prevent heart disease, but that’s not the case. A multitude of organizations are trying the get the word out about the danger of heart disease for women. A heart attack can be unexpected, but you don’t have to be unprepared. Being informed—about your risk factors, the symptoms of a heart attack (which are often very different from those experienced by men) and what measures to take to reduce your risk—just might save your life.

Risk Factors

• Smoking (including second-hand smoke, and especially when combined with taking birth control pills)

• High LDL (the so-called “bad” cholesterol)

• A poor diet Lack of exercise

• A family history of heart disease

• High blood pressure

• High stress levels

• Diabetes


• Shortness of breath, even without pain

• Pressure or discomfort in the lower chest or upper abdomen

• Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach

• Pressure or squeezing in the upper back that feels like a tightening rope

• Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away then returns

• Cold sweat

• Nausea or vomiting

• Dizziness or fainting

• Extreme fatigue

Tips for Prevention

• Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke.

• Exercise at a moderate level for at least 150 minutes per week.

• Keep your overall cholesterol level under 200 mg/dl, your LDL under 100 mg/dl.

• Get your blood pressure checked. It should be under 140/90.

• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and at least two servings of fish per week, lay off the high-fat foods and seek out those high in fiber. To find out exactly how much of each food group you need daily, visit the USDA’s calculator at www.choos

• Cut the salt. The FDA recommends that everyone, including children, eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Adults age 51 and older, African Americans of any age and individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should take in less than 1,500 mg a day. (One serving of Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Noodle Soup, for example, contains 940 mg.)

• Stay slim. Your body mass index (BMI) should be less than 25. For a calculator, visit www.nhlbisupport com/bmi/.

• Be informed. For more information on symptoms, treatment, prevention and risk factors, visit gored, a website powered by the American Heart Association and dedicated to women’s heart health.

• Wear red. February is American Heart Month, and Feb. 1 is the 10th annual National Wear Red Day to raise awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 health threat for women.