Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Eight times as many women will die from heart attacks alone this year than will die from breast cancer.
According to U.S. Census figures, about 121,806 women in Oklahoma have heart disease.
“It is magnitudes greater than any other cause of death in women,” said Dr. Carl Rubenstein, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma and a partner in the Oklahoma Cardiovascular Associates.
While men and women have many of the same risk factors for heart disease, some are greater for females. These include damage to blood vessels from tobacco use, high triglyceride levels, and diabetes-related risks.
The good news, says Rubenstein is that prevention is just as effective in women as men.
“Just like our mothers told us, prevention really is the name of the game,” he said.
He said women especially benefit from daily physical activity such as 30 minutes of brisk walking.
“Studies very clearly show that if you look at women that are more physically fit, even if they are overweight, the relative risk of coronary disease events is lower,” he said.
Other ways to prevent heart disease include tobacco cessation, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, lowering blood cholesterol and controlling blood pressure.
Some risk factors, like genetics, can’t be controlled.
Although she has a family history of heart disease, Kristine Kelso Alexander said that wasn’t her first thought when she began having severe shoulder pain several years ago. She thought the pain was related to her curved spine.
But Alexander found out her heart was failing and she’d likely need a transplant.
Instead, Alexander participated in a clinical trial at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital of a biventricular pacemaker, which implants three wires instead of two into the heart to synchronize pumping. It has worked and the device is now approved by the Federal Drug Administration.
Alexander encourages women to pay attention to their bodies and seek help, even when they aren’t sure their symptoms are heart-related.
“You just don't know,” she said. “You think it can’t be my heart, but it was.”
Stats: Women and Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease ranks first among all disease categories in hospital discharges for women.
Cardiovascular disease, particularly coronary heart disease and stroke, remain the leading causes of death for women in America and most developed countries, with nearly 37 percent of all female deaths in the United States occurring from cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is a particular problem among minority women. The death rate due to cardiovascular disease is higher in black women than in white women.
One in 2.7 females who die, die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular disease compared with one in 30 who die of breast cancer.
In 2005 cardiovascular disease claimed the lives of 454,613 females â€” cancer 268,890.
Coronary heart disease claims the lives of 213,572 females annually compared with 41,116 lives from breast cancer and 69,105 from lung cancer.
At age 40 and older, 23 percent of women compared with 18 percent of men will die within one year after a heart attack.
In 2004, 25 percent of nursing home residents age 65 and over had a primary diagnosis of cardiovascular disease at admission.
Of the estimated 6.5 million stroke survivors alive today, 60 percent are women.
Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability; 15 percent to 30 percent of stroke survivors are permanently disabled.