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Health Information The Heritage of a Woman's Heart

Most people know that family history can play a big part in whether someone is susceptible to a disease. But did you realize that your ethnicity can also affect your risk for some diseases.
 

Many people used to feel that heart disease was more of a man's problem, but more women are now dying of heart disease than men. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death for women. One in four women will die of heart disease. By comparison, one in 30 will die of breast cancer. Unfortunately, only 57 percent of American women know that heart disease is their leading killer, according to a recent survey by the American Heart Association.

"We want to raise awareness of this," says Annabelle Volgman, MD, director of the Rush Heart Center for Women. "We want to partner with women and help them take care of themselves," she says.

"Also, by educating women, we hope to have an impact on the whole family," says Volgman. "Women will be making lifestyle changes for themselves that have the potential to affect the whole family. They'll be leading more physically active lives and making more healthful meals, which are two positive lifestyle changes that they can share with their loved ones."

Heart disease not only affects men and women differently. It affects the lives of women from various ethnic groups differently. Black women, for example, are at higher risk for heart disease and most of its risk factors. Heart disease is more prevalent among black women than white women. And black women are more likely to experience some of the main risk factors for heart disease such as having high blood pressure and/or diabetes and being overweight. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 80 percent of African American women at midlife are overweight or obese, 52 percent have high blood pressure and 14 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Latinas are also at higher risk than white women, partly because of higher tendency to have diabetes, to be less physically active and to be overweight. American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander women are also at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Along with other changes in the body, menopause brings an increased risk of heart disease. This is partly because of a drop in the levels of estrogen in the body, which can affect the concentration of lipids (including cholesterol and triglycerides) in the blood. "The risk of heart disease for women is lower than for men before menopause," says Volgman. "Yet, after she reaches menopause the risk becomes the same as men's."

Risk Factors
Risk factors you can change:
 

  • Smoking
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle (i.e., not getting enough physical activity)
  • Being overweight
  • Being obese

Risk factors that should be monitored and managed:
 

  • High cholesterol (high overall cholesterol and high LDL — "bad cholesterol")
  • Low HDL ("good cholesterol")
  • High blood pressure

Diabetes Risk factors that you can't control:
 

  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Menopause
  • Your age (for women, being over 55 puts you at higher risk)

Go online to learn "How to Reduce Your Risk."

Know Your Numbers
"It's important that people know their cholesterol and blood sugar levels," says Volgman. "Know not only your total cholesterol levels, but your LDL, HDL and triglycerides."

Also, know your risk factors and share them with your doctor. "For example, whether or not there is a family history of heart disease, because this really can change the whole picture," says Volgman. "This is very important for you to share with your doctor, as is whether or not you smoke or use other tobacco products."

"We want to empower people to lower their risk of heart disease and prevent type 2 diabetes and its complications," says Volgman. "Many times it's a matter of making small lifestyle changes like eating the right foods and getting more physical activity in your life. We love it when we see people turn their lives around and lower their risk of heart disease." Go online to learn "Warning Signs of a Heart Attack in Women."


More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about care for women with heart disease at Rush visit our Rush Heart Center for Women home page.
  • For more information about other heart and cardiovascular services at Rush visit our Heart and Vascular Programs home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352- RUSH (888 352-7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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