One in 4 Women Will Die From Heart Disease - this is Silent Killer.

Talk about overworked and under appreciated. Your heart fuels your body through blistering treadmill sprints, flutters at the sight of a shirtless Chris Hemsworth, and paces you through a crazy work day—all the while supplying your brain, limbs, and organs with oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood. Yet 40 percent of women rarely give their heart a second thought, according to a poll conducted by Women's Health, the American Heart Association (AHA), and Weekend Today.

That's scary, considering one in four females will die of heart disease—an often-silent illness that can start as early as your teenage years. (Framed another way, your lifetime risk for heart disease is nearly triple your lifetime risk for breast cancer.)

Yet in a 2000 national heart association survey, only 34% of women correctly identified heart disease as a leading cause of death.

And "only 8% of women saw it as their biggest health threat," says cardiologist Sharonne Hayes, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Women's Heart Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "There's a disconnect. They know it's a major disease, but they think they're going to die of breast cancer."

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Major issues surrounding women's heart health and medical care were brought to light in a survey of 204 women with heart disease reported in the January/February 2003 issue of Women's Health Issues. Hayes, who is Director of Mayo Clinic Women's Heart Clinic in Rochester, Minn., co-authored the report, funded by

Women Heart: The National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease this Silent Killer. Among the issues women raised were:

  • Mental illness resulting from heart disease
  • Failure to diagnose heart disease
  • Problems related to physicians' attitudes
  • Dissatisfaction with medical care, including major hurdles in getting support for recovery

Hayes says that awareness about women's heart health is gradually growing among women and healthcare professionals, but there's much room for improvement.

Mental Health and the Heart

One survey result has already changed how Hayes conducts her practice. She was surprised by the high percentage of women 57%  who said they suffered depression, anxiety or both as a result of heart disease. "Following the survey, our women's heart clinic got a psychologist much more integrated in terms of evaluating patients and giving us cardiologists some insight into mental illness that we're not trained for."

That insight can help explain why only 14% of women made lifestyle changes following a heart attack. "If you're depressed, you're unlikely to be able to make the lifestyle changes that you need to prevent another heart attack," says Hayes. But the knowledge should now help healthcare professionals see and treat mental health problems brought on by heart disease.

So, yeah, it's time to give this pulsating powerhouse some love. The AHA released new guidelines in November that urge people to fill up on produce and whole grains, break a sweat for at least 40 minutes a few times a week, and keep cholesterol in check. The research revealed in the following stories (listed below) will help you go even further to, well, heart your heart. Take care from this Silent Killer.

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