The World Heart Federation says heart disease and stroke is the number-one killer of women worldwide, killing more women each year than all types of cancers, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The federation urges people to give a healthy heart to their loved ones on Valentine's Day and every day thereafter.
The World Heart Federation says 17.5 million people around the world die of heart disease and stroke. Women account for one-third of these deaths.
And yet, World Heart Federation chief executive officer Janet Voute says many women are not aware of the risks they run. She says they often believe that cardiovascular problems afflict mainly men. Therefore, they do not take the appropriate preventive steps.
For the same reason, she says, doctors often misdiagnose heart disease in women.
"Women are just as susceptible to heart disease and stroke," she said. "I think what has led to the myth is the difference in the age of onset. And, it is somewhat younger -about 10 years younger in men - and women have a certain protection that comes with menopause. Up until menopause, there is a slightly protective mechanism. After that age, their risk in fact is higher."
Voute says the incidence of heart disease and stroke is on the increase because risk factors such as being overweight or obese, inactive and smoking are on the rise.
She says the adoption of healthy life styles like eating well, exercising regularly, and stopping tobacco use could cut deaths from heart disease and stroke by half. She says the problems, the risks, and the solutions are as relevant in poor countries as they are in rich ones.
"Women in developing countries are certainly as susceptible. The presence of heart disease and stroke would vary by individual country. But, 50 percent of all deaths in developing countries of women over 50 can be attributable to heart disease and strokes. So, indeed women do definitely die in very large numbers of heart disease and strokes in developing countries. And, often the medical system is not at all attuned to their needs," added Voute.
Because developing countries have scarce resources, Voute notes these tend to be used for maternal health care. As a consequence, the needs of older women often get ignored. She says health care systems must be structured so they can help people maintain good health throughout their lives.
The World Heart Federation is focusing on Valentine's Day to encourage women around the world to learn how to love their hearts and adopt healthy habits for life.