Q&A: Heart disease kills more women than cancer

by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: March 6, 2013

There's a lack of awareness among women about the danger posed by heart disease, a theme Dr. Shyla High explores in a new book.

“Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women and has killed more women than men every year since 1984,” said High, a cardiologist at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital. “There's a disconnect between that indisputable fact and the awareness that women have about that.”

High recently authored “Why Most Women Die — How Women Can Fight Their No. 1 Killer: Heart Disease.”

How prevalent is heart disease among women?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Oklahoma and the U.S., according to the state Health Department.

It is also a leading cause of disability among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

High said although there has been a successful campaign regarding breast cancer, women aren't as aware of their risk for developing heart disease.

“Women tend to be caregivers and not necessarily caretakers of themselves,” High said. “The time of life that we develop heart disease we tend to be focusing on our parents and kids in college and our careers. We tend to take care of the pot that is boiling and not the one that may be simmering.”

What are the symptoms of a heart attack in a woman?

Although women do suffer from chest pain or discomfort when having a heart attack, they often don't recognize when they're having a heart attack.

“The problem is that women have a higher incidence of unusual, more vague symptoms, such as maybe a new onset of fatigue, shortness of breath, back and shoulder pain, (and) abdominal pain,” High said.

High said women often will think they're suffering from acid reflux or other digestive problems.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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