Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, but many women are not aware of that. Health experts say informing women about the risk of developing the disease is the first step in preventing it.
Women today are more likely than ever to suffer from heart disease, says cardiologist Matthew Budoff.
"They are actually at increased risk of heart disease, partly because they live longer," he says. "And so, as they get older, they are more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and their cholesterol goes up. A lot of these issues are not discussed with their primary care physicians as diligently as men."
The first step toward fighting the disease among women, Budoff says, is dispelling the misconceptions about it - such as that heart disease only affects men.
"The heart attack rate actually now is higher in women than in men in the United States," he says. "More women die of heart attack, more women die of stroke, and more women die of heart failure than men every year in the United States. It's really a female-predominant disease at this point."
Another misconception, he says, is that breast cancer is women's No 1. health concern.
"Breast cancer is a very important disease for women and a big health concern," he says. "But approximately 5-to-1 of those women will die of heart disease rather than breast cancer. So heart disease is a much bigger killer of women in our society than breast cancer."
Separating facts from fiction, Budoff says, can help women make better health decisions.
"Women have to make sure that they are not only getting their mammograms and self breast exams, but that they're also finding out about their heart health," he says. "I highly recommend that women know their numbers, know their blood pressure and their cholesterol, and after menopause, consider a heart scan to see if they have any plaque building up in their coronary arteries."
To help prevent heart disease, registered dietitian Keri Glassman encourages women to re-examine their lifestyle and take baby steps to make it healthier.
"We're really focusing on women making small changes and building on them to improve their overall lifestyle," she says. "We can modify many things to our daily lifestyle. We can improve our weight. We can reduce the amount of sodium we're consuming. We can incorporate more fiber and more omega-3s into our diet."
Natural health care provider Bob DeMaria - who's known as Dr. Bob - agrees that taking care of your overall health can improve heart health.
"You may or may not know, but the blood flows from your feet, up your legs, through your liver, which is in the right side of your body, on the way to the heart," he says. "So when you have constipation, that puts pressure on the liver. Then, if the liver is not functioning optimally, it will affect the kidneys. When kidneys are congested, this is going to affect your blood pressure. It affects the flow of blood to the heart."
He advises his patients, especially women, to take a holistic and organic approach to staying healthy.
"If I was a female today, I would definitely exercise regularly," he says. "I would eat as much fresh vegetables as I could - raw, steamed or sautéed. The fruits I would eat would be pears, plums and apples. I would use sea salt. I would focus on gluten-free wheat products. I would drink water from a pure source.
"I would use animal tissue, including lamb or chicken; organic will be the best. Deep ocean fish, not farm-raised fish. I'd have B vitamins. B vitamins are important for sending electrical impulses along nerves.
"I wouldn't drink soda. I would avoid pastries. Avoid all processed foods, especially fake sweeteners. I would not eat any deep-fried food. I would sauté in olive oil and use flax oil. I think this is something that is very significant."
Dr. Bob and other health advocates say it's also crucial for women to quit smoking and find creative ways to reduce their stress levels. Finding love and friendship can also help women enjoy a happier life with healthier hearts.