Women and Heart Disease - FamilyEducation

Women and Heart Disease

Learn about the specific risk factors for heart disease in women.

There are many serious types of health concerns that affect women. None is more serious than heart disease, the nation's leading killer. The American Heart Association says that "nearly one million people die from heart disease yearly." Heart disease is often thought of as a man's disease, but that is a misconception. Even though breast cancer is most often quoted as the number one cause of death in women, nearly six times as many women die from heart disease. In 1996, women's deaths from heart disease outpaced men's by 505,930 to 453,297. The facts tell it all: one in nine women over age forty-five and one in three women over sixty-five have coronary heart disease. Approximately half of all women will eventually develop some form of heart disease.

Up until menopause, estrogen reduces the likelihood of plaque buildup in the arteries and acts as protection from heart disease.

After menopause, a woman's risk steadily increases for developing coronary artery disease, or CAD, a condition where the veins and arteries leading to the heart become narrowed and/or blocked by plaque. Heart attack and stroke are caused by CAD, in most cases.

Essential: Estrogen helps to raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), which helps remove the LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) that contributes to the accumulation of fat deposits called plaque along artery walls.

Women need to concentrate on making heart-healthy choices throughout life, but especially in the years after menopause. It is important to eat a diet that is low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; eat plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits; stay physically active; keep a healthy weight; control stress levels; go easy on sodium; and consult with a doctor about hormone replacement therapy.