July 01, 2017

Women and heart disease

Take risks seriously

Women and heart disease

It's estimated that almost half of women don't realize that heart disease is the top cause of death in women — just as it is for men. Among women 65 and older, heart disease accounts for about a quarter of all deaths. If deaths due to stroke are added, the amount climbs to nearly a third.

In contrast, all types of cancer combined account for about 19 percent of deaths in women older than 65.

Awareness of heart disease risk in women has increased in recent years — and actions taken to reduce the risk have made a difference. In the past 15 years, the number of American women dying of heart disease has declined significantly.

For women, understanding heart-health risks can provide the knowledge and motivation to take seriously the medical steps and lifestyle changes that can greatly reduce this risk.

Large and small

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a process in which the inner layer of arteries is damaged. Inflammation may be one of the factors that start the damage, and fatty deposits (plaques) tend to accumulate at the site over time. This process is called atherosclerosis. It can narrow arteries and reduce — or sometimes eventually block — blood flow. In addition, plaques can tear and rupture, triggering blood clot development that can also block blood flow.

CAD can set the stage for eventual heart attack, heart failure or potentially deadly heart rhythm problems. Atherosclerosis can also occur in other arteries, such as those that...