February 7th is the American Heart Association’s “Wear Red Day for Women”, and now is a great time to have your heart checked. Heart disease kills more women in the U.S. than all forms of cancer combined and is often called the “silent killer” because, often, there are no noticeable symptoms. Unlike men, women are more likely to experience heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms could include neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and unusual fatigue.

Heart disease can affect women of all ages, and knowing your risk can help you prevent suffering a heart attack or stroke. Here is a list of factors, from the American Heart Association:


Having high cholesterol can clog your arteries and increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. According to the National Institute of Health, women should have their cholesterol checked every couple of years starting when they are 45. If you smoke, have diabetes, or if heart disease runs in your family, you should start having your cholesterol checked at age 20. If you don’t know what your cholesterol levels are, schedule an appointment with your doctor to learn your numbers.

High Blood Pressure (HBP)

High blood pressure is a condition that makes your heart work harder than normal by causing scar tissue to build, trapping plaque and speeding up the hardening of the arteries. If left untreated it can cause irreversible damage to your arteries, leaving you more at risk for heart disease. While there is no cure for HBP, it is manageable and preventable by living a healthy lifestyle.


Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by 2 to 4 times. It damages your heart by raising your blood pressure, damaging your blood vessels and lowering your good cholesterol. If you stop smoking, you can cut your risk in half within a year, and it will continue to decline as time goes on.


Just like smoking, having diabetes raises the risk of heart disease 2 to 4 times. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to help control your condition and reduce your risk of heart disease.


Being overweight or obese greatly increases your risk. These conditions force your heart to work harder than normal and raise your blood pressure. Losing as few as ten pounds can lower your risk.

Many women don’t realize they are at risk for heart disease. The key is to find out early and be proactive. Once you know your risks, you are then in a better position to manage those risks. Here are some things you can do to lower your chances of contracting heart disease:

  • Exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day, 5 days a week
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt
  • Quit or don’t start smoking
Being healthy is the key to living a long life. There are many factors that contribute to heart disease, and it is important to be aware of the symptoms and risks. If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms or would like more information on heart disease in women, contact your doctor.