Heart Disease

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Matters of the Heart: Cardiovascular Disease in American Women


In partnership with Missouri Medicine, MSMA

By Kevin A. Bybee, MD


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in women and men in the United States and in other developed countries. Cardiovascular disease, which includes hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary artery disease (blockage in heart arteries), congestive heart failure and stroke accounts for nearly 500,000 deaths in U.S. women every year. More than half of these CVD-related deaths are due to coronary artery disease and heart attacks.

It is estimated that 3.2 million U.S. women suffer a heart attack every year with about 213,600 U.S. women dying from heart attacks each year. Approximately 370,000 U.S. women suffer a stroke every year resulting in 56,000 deaths each year. For the first time, U.S. death rates due to cardiovascular disease in women have now surpassed that of men. Cardiovascular disease is now responsible for more deaths in women than all cancers combined. Once above the age of 50, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease is greater than the risk from breast cancer. Identification and treatment of risk factors for cardiovascular disease can significantly lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. These risk factors include having hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol; leading a sedentary lifestyle; being overweight; eating an unhealthy diet; and using tobacco.

Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure reading above 140/90 mmHg. The goal is to have a blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg. Lowering blood pressure through diet, exercise and medications can significantly reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. Diabetes is defined as having a fasting blood sugar of 126 mg/dl on two separate occasions. Those with diabetes can reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering blood sugars with lifestyle modification including dietary changes and with the use of diabetic medications. For most women, an ideal LDL cholesterol level is less than 100 mg/dl. Dietary changes, exercise and, when need, cholesterol-lowering medications can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. An ideal body weight for an individual female is the weight that achieves a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25.0. Alternatively, a waist circumference of less than 35 inches in women is associated with reduced risk of heart attacks. Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Smoking cessation is paramount to preserving cardiovascular health in those who smoke.

Through identification and modification of personal risk factors for cardiovascular disease, women can significantly reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke.


Kevin A. Bybee, MD, is with Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants and the Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, and an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. 

Published February 19, 2013.


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Editor's note: This article is part of a special series brought to you by Missouri Medicine, the Medical Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association (MSMA). MedHelp, Missouri Medicine, and MSMA are collaborating to educate and empower health consumers by making the latest scientific studies and medical research available to the public. Learn more about MSMA and see more from Missouri Medicine.


This is a summary of the article "Matters of the Heart: Cardiovascular Disease in US Women" by Kevin A. Bybee, MD & Tracy L. Stevens, MD, which was originally published in the January/February 2013 issue of Missiouri MedicineThe full article is available here.

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