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Heart disease—What women should know about

Here’s shocking news: Most women have no idea that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is by far their greatest health threat.

Unfortunately, this is an instance in which what a woman doesn’t know could kill her. Not realizing that heart disease and stroke are a significant threat to them, many women don’t worry about guarding their cardiovascular health. Steps to reduce the risk of heart disease include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, stopping smoking and monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

It’s also important to learn more about how cardiovascular disease affects women differently from men. Here’s a summary of recent research.

  • A better test for women. For unknown reasons, the exercise stress test, in which the electrical activity of a person’s heart is monitored as he or she walks on a treadmill, often yields false results in women. Although more studies need to be done, researchers have found that heart disease can be more accurately diagnosed in women when physicians look for a second reading on the electrocardiogram.
  • Another villain in your blood. Elevated blood triglyceride levels raise the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially in women. Triglycerides help form LDL cholesterol—the “bad” kind that builds up on artery walls.
  • The aspirin deficit. Aspirin is one of the most effective treatments for heart attack patients, yet many women who have suffered a heart attack fail to take it. Researchers don’t know whether the women are less likely to take something physicians tell them about or whether physicians are less aggressive in informing them about the importance of aspirin.
  • Worse threats for women. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease in men mainly when other risk factors are present. In women, however, obesity alone increases risk. Diabetes hits the female heart harder, too.