Thanks to the efforts of marketing campaigns, women are aware of the risk of breast cancer, and they know how to screen for it. However, women are not always aware that the biggest risk to their health is not breast cancer but heart disease.

Tragically, 40,000 US women die annually of breast cancer. But ten times as many — 400,000 — die annually of cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke and high blood pressure. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the US — for both men and women.

But heart disease is usually associated with men, probably because it strikes men at younger ages than it does women. The average age for a first heart attack in a man is 66; in a woman it is 70 But that doesn’t mean that women are less likely than men to suffer the consequences of heart attacks: more women die of heart disease each year than men. Moreover, at younger ages, heart disease is more deadly for a woman than it is for a man. A woman who has a heart attack when she is under 50 is twice as likely to die of it than a man who has a heart attack under 50.

Given the overall risk of heart disease, as well as its increased fatality in younger women, women need to increase their awareness of this disease.

Risk Factors

The five biggest risk factors for heart disease are the same for men and women: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, and family history of cardiovascular disease. However, according to the Harvard Medical School, some of these risks affect women differently than they do men.

High cholesterol Estrogen levels in premenopausal women help protect them from heart disease, both by increasing HDL and by reducing LDL cholesterol. However, after menopause this protection is gone, and women’s cholesterol rises higher than men’s.

Diabetes Female diabetics have a higher risk of heart disease than males. Although men typically develop heart disease at younger ages than women, women with diabetes have the same risk as men their age.

Smoking Women who smoke are more likely than male smokers to have heart attacks.

Bottom line: women need to take their cardiovascular health more seriously. By doing so, they can avoid falling prey to the Number One Killer of women today.

Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.

Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specialize in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care.

We provide a variety of services, including primary care, hospital care, medical specialty services, prescription drugs, nursing home care, emergency services, home care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, adult day care, recreational therapy, meals, dentistry, nutritional counseling, social services, laboratory / X-ray services, social work counseling, and transportation.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

 

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