Many people assume breast cancer is the leading killer of American women. They’re wrong. That dubious honor goes to heart, or cardiovascular, disease. It claims more than 400,000 lives each year, according to the American Heart Association.
Cardiovascular disease actually kills more women than all types of cancer combined.
Cardiovascular disease includes numerous heart and blood vessel conditions, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke.
There are several reasons that the condition is more dangerous for women.
For starters, most heart disease symptoms are often different in women than in men. For men, heart attack often causes a scary, overwhelming chest pain. But women may just feel like they have the flu or are sick to their stomachs.
Women may also experience anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, or a dull ache in their left arm, back, chest or jaw, compared to the more intense sensations felt by men.
Menopause plays its part. Estrogen helps protect women against cardiovascular disease. After menopause, women have reduced levels of estrogen, and are more at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Reduced levels of estrogen can change the blood vessel walls, which may cause blood clots and plaque to form. Or women see their levels of low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) increase and their levels of high-density lipoproteins (good cholesterol) decrease.
These changes cause high cholesterol and fat buildup, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That can pave the way to heart attack and stroke.
One in five women don’t have health insurance, which is another risk factor. Being uninsured often means inadequate access to health care, lower standards of health care, and poorer health outcomes.
In addition, many women and doctors don’t realize that cardiovascular disease is such a threat, and therefore women often receive less aggressive diagnosis and treatment. This also leads to poorer health outcomes.