One in four deaths in the United States is linked to heart disease, warns the American College of Cardiology. And while we all know things like diet and exercise affect your risks of experiencing heart disease, two surprising factors have recently been discovered to affect your chances of heart disease: Your gender and your racial background.
The Leading Cause of Death in Women
In one survey, only 13% of women thought heart disease was their biggest personal health risk. In reality, heart disease is the #1 cause of death for women, killing 600% more women annually than breast cancer.
The type of heart disease matters, too. In a report published in the Circulation journal, researchers note that not only does heart disease disproportionately affect women, but some forms like congestive heart failure are actually increasing every single year among younger women ages 35 to 44.
What’s The Connection Between Race And Heart Disease?
Among women, your racial background also impacts your cardiovascular disease risks.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mortality trends, African-American women are significantly more at risk than Caucasian women.
Caucasian women are #2 in terms of risks, followed by Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native women. The American Heart Association notes that Hispanic women are more likely to develop heart disease a whole decade sooner than Caucasian women.
Women of Pacific Islander or Asian descent had the lowest risk.
These racial trends are present even if you adjust for things like socioeconomic differences, reports Harvard. The university says this may be due to several factors:
- African Americans may have a genetic makeup that makes them more sensitive to salt in their food, which can raise their blood pressure (high blood pressure is a significant risk factor in heart disease).
- Hispanic women tend to have a higher amount of cardiovascular health risks like diabetes and obesity.
- Asian and Pacific Islanders may eat a healthier diet if they’re immigrants. However, Harvard notes that children of Asian women who follow a Western diet and Western lifestyle often have higher risk factors than their immigrant parents.
What Can You Do To Minimize Heart Disease Risks?
You can’t change your biological gender nor your racial makeup, but you can still take charge of your heart disease risks.
Know The Symptoms
According to the American Heart Association, only 65% of women say they would call 9-1-1 if they suspected they were experiencing heart attack.
One month before having a heart attack, 71% of women experience unusual fatigue and 48% have a hard time sleeping, reports Harvard. During a heart attack, the top three symptoms experienced by women are shortness of breath, weakness and unusual fatigue.
Quit Smoking and Avoid Secondhand Smoke
“Women who smoke are more likely to have a heart attack as male smokers,” warns Harvard. If you smoke, quit. And when possible, steer clear of secondhand smoke.
Follow A Healthy Lifestyle
Exercising for 30 minutes a day, eating more fruits and vegetables and reducing stress are all key ways for women of any race to reduce their cardiovascular disease risks.