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Heart disease is a woman’s disease

Heart disease is a woman’s disease

If you had to guess, which kills more women: breast cancer or heart disease?  

The answer is heart disease…by a landslide. Heart disease kills about 300,000 women in the U.S. every year, making it the leading cause of death for women. Breast cancer, by comparison, kills about 43,000 American women every year. In fact, all forms of cancer combined account for about 285,000 deaths of women -- still less than heart disease.

If you’re surprised, you’re in good company: Only 56% of women know that heart disease is the leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And the idea that heart attacks only affect older males, especially older males who are overweight, is not exactly an accurate stereotype. Plenty of women -- including young women -- suffer from heart attacks too. 

This lack of awareness and inaccurate stereotyping is risky. A woman may chalk up chest pain to indigestion or stress, for example, whereas a man might be more likely to head straight to the E.R. Or a doctor may be more likely to assume that the fatigue a woman is suffering from is not related to heart disease, since fatigue isn’t as common of a symptom of heart disease in men.

But since heart disease causes one of every five female deaths, it’s imperative that we do everything possible to prevent the disease from taking hold in the first place. Especially since this is a preventable disease in the vast majority of cases!

As you know, high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, and smoking are linked to heart disease. So, if you smoke, quit. If you’re not sure if you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about checking it regularly. If you have high cholesterol, talk to your doctor about using Step One Foods as a way to lower those numbers before you need to go on statins.

If you don’t have any of those major risk factors, do everything you can to keep it that way, including adopting a heart healthy diet. Eating a colorful, whole food plant-based diet and packing more exercise into your day are the easiest lifestyle changes you can make that benefit your heart. (And, I would argue, the most enjoyable and fulfilling!) And to underscore what I tell every one of my patients every single day – you don’t have to be perfect.  You just have to be better.  If there’s anything we’ve proven at Step One Foods is that small changes can add up to big health results.

In honor of Mother’s Day tomorrow, we’ll explore various ways heart disease affects women this month. (Spoiler: If you were surprised by any of the above statistics, there will likely be more surprises in store.)

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