Have you ever thought or heard someone say, “Heart disease? Oh, that’s a man’s disease.” Or “Breast cancer is the real threat for women.” Or “I’m too young to have heart disease.”
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According to the American Heart Association, it’s time to set the record straight and start thinking of this as a disease that doesn’t spare women and children. It’s time to separate fact from fiction so that together, we can stop this killer once and for all.
Myth #1: Heart disease is for men, cancer is the real threat for women
Fact: Heart disease is a killer that strikes more women than men, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease is the cause of one out of every three deaths. That’s roughly one death each minute.
Myth #2: Heart disease is for old people
Fact: Heart disease affects women of all ages. For younger women, the combination of birth control pills and smoking boosts heart disease risks by 20 percent. And while the risks do increase with age, things like overeating and a sedentary lifestyle can cause plaque to accumulate and lead to clogged arteries later in life. But even if you lead a completely healthy lifestyle, being born with an underlying heart condition can be a risk factor.
Myth #3: Heart disease doesn’t affect women who are fit
Fact: Even if you’re a yoga-loving, marathon-running workout fiend, your risk for heart disease isn’t completely eliminated. Factors like cholesterol, eating habits and smoking can counterbalance your other healthy habits. You can be thin and have high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. And while you’re at it, be sure to keep an eye on your blood pressure at your next check-up.
Myth #4: I don’t have any symptoms
Fact: Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. Because these symptoms vary greatly between men and women, they’re often misunderstood. We’ve been conditioned to believe that the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain. But in reality, women are somewhat more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, feeling lightheaded or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
We encourage you to make yourself a priority, not only during Heart Month, but every day. Putting our hearts at the top of our self-care list reduces our risk of heart disease and can inspire others to do the same!