Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, killing more than 300,000 every year — yet only about half of women are aware of the risks, signs and symptoms of heart attacks.
On National Wear Red Day, which is observed on Feb. 2 to raise awareness for cardiovascular disease, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook joined “CBS Mornings” to share what women should know.
While rates have decreased in the past 20 years, LaPook says far too many are still dying from heart disease.
“It’s a dangerous misconception that heart disease is somehow exclusively a male disease,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 killer in women. There’s a reason why we’re wearing red today, and that’s to bring attention to this, because attention and understanding translates to save lives.”
Signs of heart attack in women
For women, LaPook says the most common symptoms of heart attacks include:
Chest painShortness of breath
However, there can be some more atypical symptoms, including:
NauseaVomitingFatiguePain in your jaw, back or other areasHeart disease risk factors
There are several risk factors when it comes to heart disease, including:
High blood pressureDiabetesHigh cholesterolObesityInactivity
“Access to care is another thing,” LaPook adds. “You have to be able to actually see a doctor.”
He also pleads: “No smoking!” “That’s one of the big reasons for the drop is the decline in smoking,” he notes.
Is there a screening for heart disease?
Knowing your numbers early on — for things like weight, blood pressure and more — is the best way to keep an eye on heart health.
“It’s not something where you want to wait until you have symptoms and then say, ‘OK, now I’m going to really get into it.’ This should be a lifelong thing. So, from birth, you want to have healthy habits,” LaPook says. That includes maintaining a healthy weight and knowing “what your numbers are.”
“High blood pressure is silent very often, so you want to know those numbers. You want to make sure you’re not diabetic, you want to make sure your lipids are OK.”
Heart health and pregnancy
Pregnancy is a “big stress test,” LaPook says. Just like you wouldn’t start training the day before running a marathon, he explains you also want to go into pregnancy with good overall health.
“Part of that means access to care, making sure that you know your numbers, that you’re the right weight,” he says. He also noted the heightened concerns for Black women, who face an increased mortality rate during pregnancy.
“It’s a problem that’s been addressed, but sporadically and not well enough, and the reasons for it are multifactorial — it’s social determinants of health,” LaPook said. “If you don’t have access to good housing and good food and access to care, and then on top of that, of course, we know there’s implicit bias, and these all combined to increase mortality for Black women.”