Many women are surprised to learn that coronary heart disease - often thought to be a "man's illness" - is the number one killer of women in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. In fact, women are five times more likely to die from heart disease as from breast cancer, and almost twice as many American women die of heart disease and stroke than from all types of cancer combined.
While heart disease cannot completely be stopped, certain lifestyle changes can significantly lower your risk of developing this illness. Unfortunately, several myths about heart disease and women continue to persist. Four of the top myths include:
Myth No. 1: Risk factors for heart disease are the same, regardless of gender. Studies show that certain illnesses and conditions are more likely to cause heart disease in women than in men. For example, metabolic syndrome is more likely to trigger heart disease in women. This condition is marked by obesity around the abdomen, high blood pressure and high levels of blood sugar and triglycerides.
Myth No. 2: Heart disease is likely to be milder in women. In some ways, women are at greater risk of serious injury from heart problems than men. For unknown reasons, statistics show that women are less likely to survive a heart attack than men.
Myth No. 3: Symptoms of a heart attack are the same for both genders. Women are actually likely to experience different types of symptoms than men. For example, women are more likely to feel unusual fatigue, abdominal, neck, shoulder or upper back pain, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath during a heart attack than their male counterparts. Often women ignore these symptoms especially if they are not accompanied by severe chest pain. By the time they finally realize that something is seriously wrong, there may be significant heart damage.
Myth No. 4: Smoking is a greater heart-disease risk for men. Traditionally, men have been more likely to smoke and to smoke more than women. However, in recent years there has been an alarming upward spike in the numbers of women smokers. The risk of heart disease rises with both the number of cigarettes you smoke and the length of time since you first started smoking.
According to the American Heart Association, these myths and misconceptions lead many women into a false sense of security-just 13 percent of women believe heart disease is their own greatest risk factor. Not only should women take this condition seriously, but they should also discuss their concerns with their physician during their annual exam.
For more information on heart disease, call the American Heart Association at 1-800-242-8721, visit its Web site at www.americanheart.org or talk to your health care provider.
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