#1. Your risk is underappreciated. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, yet research shows most don’t perceive it as their greatest threat. In fact, survey data suggests that on a day-to-day basis, women worry more about getting breast cancer.
#2. Your risk increases significantly after menopause. Why? Before menopause, the estrogen your body is producing provides you with some protection against heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol.
#3. Blood lipid levels are important. A woman’s HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels predict her risk for CHD better than her total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol levels. These two things are particularly important to measure in women over 65.
#4. Your symptoms may look different. Women are less likely to realize they are having a heart attack because their symptoms often don’t mirror the typical “Hollywood” chest pain. Women commonly experience other things like fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, a cold sweat, and nausea.
#5. A cardiac event may hurt you more. Women are twice as likely as men to die within the first few weeks after suffering a heart attack, and as much as 42% of women who have heart attacks die within one year, compared to 24% of men. Women are also more likely than men to become more disabled by a stroke.
#6. Smoking puts you more at risk. Women who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack as male smokers – and they risk having a heart attack 19 years earlier than non-smoking women.
#7. Diabetes puts you more at risk. While the condition is harmful to both genders, it increases the risk of heart disease in women more than it does men. Women with diabetes have more than double the risk of heart attack than non-diabetic women.
#8. Birth control plays a role. Oral contraceptives may pose an increased risk of heart disease in women, particularly if used in conjunction with smoking. The combination of birth control and smoking is especially risky for women older than 35.