What’s the leading cause of death among women in Kentucky?

A woman with hands placed on her heart.

It’s not breast cancer or car accidents. It is heart disease. 

For the last 27 years, deaths from cardiovascular disease in women have outnumbered those in men. According to the American Heart Association, in 2008 cardiovascular disease (CVD) claimed the lives of 419,370 U.S. women. That’s almost one death every minute, more than those from cancer, emphysema, Alzheimer’s disease, accidents, and diabetes combined.  Compared to deaths from CVD, in 2008 all forms of cancer killed 270,210 women. Of that, breast cancer caused 40,589 deaths. Despite this, studies have consistently shown that breast cancer tops the list of women’s health concerns. While cancer is most certainly a significant danger, statistics tell another story: women also need to see heart disease as a major health threat.

In Kentucky, more than 4,800 women die each year from heart disease. And Kentucky women are at a much higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease than women in other states.  That’s why it’s important to learn our heart disease risk as part of our annual wellness checkup.  

What places a woman at high risk? Women with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes, as well as women who smoke, don’t exercise, or have a family history of heart disease have the highest chance of developing CVD.  Lifestyle contributes significantly to the burden of heart disease in Kentucky, where nearly two-thirds of women are overweight or obese, and one-quarter of women smoke.  In addition to traditional risk factors, cancer survivors and women who have experienced a high-risk pregnancy may also develop heart problems later in life.  Lifestyle modifications, early intervention, and drug therapies are a few ways to reduce the possibility of suffering from CVD.

A healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce anyone’s chances for developing heart disease. Even small changes can have a major impact. The top three healthy habits to adopt are: avoid (or vastly reduce) tobacco use, exercise, and eat well.  

Smoking is the most preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S., and for every person who dies from smoking, 20 more people suffer from at least one serious tobacco-related illness. Tragically, an estimated 60% of children aged four to 11 are exposed to second-hand smoke.  Studies show the risk of developing heart disease is 25 to 30% higher in people exposed to second-hand smoke. 

Another way to reduce your chance of developing CVD is regular exercise -- as little as 30 minutes a day is all that is needed. In fact, for every hour of exercise, studies estimate that people increase their lifespan by two hours. Easy ways to increase your physical activity include: doing vigorous housework; gardening or working outdoors; taking short, brisk walks; parking further away in the lot; using stairs instead of the elevator; and dancing. 

Healthful eating is the easiest change you can make.  Avoid eating out whenever possible and place a priority on home-cooking. Smart moves include: make fruits and vegetables predominant in your diet (shoot for a minimum of five colorful servings every day); switch to whole grain bread and multi-grain cereal; eat fish two to three times a week; snack on unsalted nuts; substitute beans and legumes for animal protein.  Foods to avoid include fried foods; foods high in sodium or saturated fat; most processed foods and deli meats; salty snack foods; and sodas, both regular and diet (recent studies suggest that even diet soda is harmful to cardiovascular health).

Finally, treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol are essential to preventing heart disease. Eating too much salt raises blood pressure, the leading cause of heart disease and stroke that kills more than 800,000 Americans each year. A study released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nine out of ten Americans exceed substantially the daily limit of sodium (it’s 2,300 milligrams), which comes mostly from processed foods people buy at the grocery store and fast food. People with hypertension should limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day. Reducing sodium intake, medications, and losing weight can help keep blood pressure in check.  According to a new study, statin therapy used to lower cholesterol, improves survival rates in women with heart disease. The analysis supports what physicians have long suspected -- statin drugs may also reduce deaths from heart disease in women as well as men.

Knowing your risk for heart disease, making small lifestyle changes and following the American Heart Association “Life’s Simple 7” steps will ensure a longer, happier, and healthier life for you and your family.

Women in Kentucky should rally around the American Heart Association’s new national goal:  By 2020, to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. To achieve this goal, we all should follow the organization’s “Life’s Simple 7” steps:

  1. Don’t smoke;
  2. Maintain a healthy weight;
  3. Engage in regular physical activity;
  4. Eat a healthy diet;
  5. Manage blood pressure;
  6. Take charge of cholesterol; and
  7. Keep blood sugar, or glucose, at healthy levels.

For more information on your heart health, or to schedule an appointment to see one of our physicians at the Gill Heart & Vascular Institute, please call 859-257-1000.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

Topics in this Story

    Heart Health-Women’s Health