Women face unique risks for cardiovascular disease: What to know this Heart Month

44% of women over 20 living with heart disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, but women face particular risks when it comes to cardiovascular disease.

More than 44% of women over the age of 20 are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. February is Heart Month, and we’re using it as an opportunity to share information about heart health and why it’s so important -- especially for women.

Studies find that far too many women still aren’t aware of their personal risk for cardiovascular disease, and that they aren’t being saved at the same rate.

But everyone can play a role in changing that.

“You think traditionally of that stereotype of the older man, you know, gripping his chest and having a heart attack,” said Kristian Hurley, executive director of the Southeast Michigan American Heart Association. “It’s just not seen as something that affects women -- and it does.”

Changing that stereotype is critical, Hurley says.

“We need to have that awareness, and we need to be acting on that in our lives and prioritizing ourselves so that we can really reduce our risk and be there for our families,” Hurley said.

Women face unique risk factors, including pregnancy. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of new moms, and is the cause of more than one-third of maternal deaths.

“New research studies have seen that 37% of women who are experiencing high blood pressure during their pregnancy, that maybe they didn’t have that before, have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease afterward or even during,” said Maria Carr, director of development at Go Red For Women.

If your heart does stop beating, receiving immediate CPR can increase the odds of survival. But women are 6% less likely than men to receive bystander CPR in an emergency, and 23% less likely to survive an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest.

“Women, in particular, do not get CPR as frequently as men because people are concerned,” Hurley said. “‘Oh gosh, she’s a woman,’ you know, they might be concerned about touching her inappropriately. But she needs your help.”

Women are also lagging behind in cardiovascular research.

As of 2020, only 38% of cardiovascular clinical trial participants were women. Funding more studies and encouraging more women to participate is key.

Health experts are urging women (and everyone) to start with the following actions:

  • Get a checkup to see where your heart health stands, especially your blood pressure numbers.
  • Learn hands-only CPR and teach your family. It’s a simple lifesaving skill that everyone needs to know.

More: CPR training resource guide: Why it’s important, how it works, how to get trained

You can also show your support for women’s heart health on Friday, Feb. 3 by participating in National Wear Red Day. All you have to do is just wear something red to help raise awareness of women’s heart risks.

You can show off your red on social media using the hashtags #WearRedDay and #DetroitGoRed.

Click here to learn more about cardiovascular disease in women from Go Red For Women.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.