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Heart Disease Kills More Women Than Men

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Heart Disease Kills More Women Than Men

Feb 26, 2015
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing more deaths in women than all cancers combined. Heart disease used to be a men’s issue, but in the last few decades, women have caught up and surpassed men in deaths from heart disease. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks about the reasons women suffer from heart disease and how to best prevent it.

Episode Transcript

Since 1984 more women have died each year from heart disease than men. Having a broken heart is about more than just romance, and today we're talking about women and heart disease. This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University Healthcare, and this is The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Women think about breast cancer and osteoporosis because they're more common in women than men. But while 1 in 31 American women die from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies from heart disease. Only 1 in 5 women think that heart disease is their biggest health threat, and they don't think of heart disease as a women's issue. "It's a guy thing." Well, that may have been so in the 60s and 70s, when many men smoked and women rarely did. But since 1984 women have caught up and passed men in the risk of dying from coronary artery disease. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women more than all cancers combined.

"Why are women different from men?" The risk of coronary artery disease in premenopausal women is much lower than the same aged men. But after menopause, women start to catch up and by 60 they have passed men in the incidents of heart disease.

"Well, what's the menopause story?" Some changes in mid-life that increase the risk have to do with the ovary, menopause, and some have to do with aging. Estrogens keep arteries elastic, and after menopause women are at higher risk of high blood pressure. Estrogens help keep good cholesterol a little higher and that changes after menopause, and estrogens help insulin work a little better for reasons we don't understand, so diabetes is a little less likely before menopause, and diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease.

Now the aging thing, women as they get older gain weight and they gain weight in the middle and they exercise less. All these add to the risk of hypertension, diabetes and heart disease and combine with those things that are related to the ovary. Almost two-thirds of women, 64%, who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms you will still be at risk for heart disease. The risk factors include diabetes, which we mentioned, overweight and obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excess alcohol use.

So take care of your heart. You should know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can result in heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Talk to your health care provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes or even pre-diabetes raises your chance of heart disease. If you're a smoker . . . the guys got on the boat and mostly stopped smoking, so stop smoking, and be careful about your food and alcohol choices. One drink a day at max, and try to maintain a healthy weight and keep moving.

Taking care of your heart is as much about the loves of your life and your family as it is about that wonderful muscle in your chest that pumps your life for you. Be aware, take care, and thanks for joining us on The Scope.

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