February is American Heart Month

It is never too late to take action to prevent and control the risk factors for heart disease

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women and men. Heart disease can lead to disability and a significantly decreased quality of life. Although women aged 40-60 are primarily the target age group, it is important to understand that heart disease develops gradually and can start at a young age. It is never too late to take action to prevent and control the risk factors for heart disease. Major risk factors for heart disease include obesity, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Women and Cardiovascular Diseases 2011 Update (according to American Heart Association, 2010). 

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) 

  • More than 1 in 3 female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  

  • Since 1984, the number of CVD deaths for females has exceeded those for males. 

  • In 2007, females represented 52 percent of deaths from CVD. 

  • Of all major causes of death in 2007 for African Americans, CVD was the most prevalent for black females at 35 percent when compared to males at 32 percent.


  • There are an estimated 4.2 million female stroke survivors alive today. 

  • Among women aged 20 and older, the following have had a stroke: 

  • 3.3 percent of Non-Hispanic whites. 

  • 4.4 percent of non-Hispanic blacks. 

  • 2.7 percent of Mexican Americans. 

  • Women represented 60 percent of total stroke deaths in 2007.

High blood pressure (HBP) 

  • Men with hypertension represent a higher percentage than women until age 45. At age 65 and older, women represent the higher percentage of having HBP. 

  • Women represented 57 percent of total HBP deaths in 2007.

Source: American Heart Association, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

American Heart Association. (2010). Women and cardiovascular diseasesStatistical fact sheet – populations 2011 update.

For more information, please visit the American Heart Association

Related reading

(A) According to a report in the January issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, depression and diabetes appear to be associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease and risk of death from all causes over a six-year period for women.

Pan, A., Lucas, M., Sun, Q., van Dam, R.  M., Franco, O.  H., Willett, W.  C., Manson, J.  E., Rexrode, K.  M., Ascherio, A., & Hu, F.  B.  (2011).  Increased mortality risk in women with depression and diabetes mellitus.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 68, 42-50.  doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.176

(B) Anxiety disorders are on the rise among women (Dreisbach, 2010) and new research suggests there may be a link between anxiety and heart disease, but it remains unclear why (“Anxiety and Heart Disease”, 2011).

Dreisbach, S.  (2010, October).  Why are anxiety disorders among women on the rise? Glamour Magazine.

Anxiety and heart disease.  (2011, January).  Harvard Mental Health Letter, 27, 6-7.

(C) Strengthening the heart muscle to make it easier to pump blood are the aims of treatments for heart failure.  A recently approved pump, Thoratec Corporation’s HeartMate II, serves as a therapy for patients who are not candidates for heart transplants.

Latest technology provides more treatment options for heart failure.  (2011, January).  Women’s Health Adviser, 15, 3.

(D) Study finds moderators such as gender, and race/ethnicity define possible pathways to coronary heart disease mortality characterized by varying factors and interactions between factors.  The study highlights potential utility for targeted interventions among community-dwelling persons.

Keeley, R.  D., & Driscoll, M.  (2010).  A moderator-mediator analysis of coronary heart disease mortality. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 69, 549-554.

(E) According to a study presented at the November 2010 American Heart Association meeting in Chicago, women who are stressed at work are more likely than women in less stressful jobs to have a heart attack or other forms of heart disease.  Women who reported having demanding work with little decision-making authority or ability to use one’s creativity and skills, faced a 40% increase in cardiovascular disease over all, and an 88 percent increase in risk for heart attacks alone.  Women who worried about losing a job didn’t experience an increase but were more likely than women with high job security to be overweight, have high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

Stressful jobs may raise women's heart attack risk, study finds.  (2010, November).  HealthDay News.