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Heart Disease Named as Top Health Threat for Women Worldwide - 2003-09-28

The World Heart Federation says in a report that heart disease is the most serious health threat for women globally. The federation is devoting this year's World Heart Day to women, to try to raise awareness that cardiovascular disease is not just a problem for men.

The report shows women account for more than half of the 17 million people who die each year of cardiovascular disease. And, heart attacks and strokes kill twice as many women as all types of cancer combined. The World Heart Federation says 18 times more women die from heart disease and strokes than from breast cancer.

The federation's executive director, Janet Voute, said people mistakenly believe that women are less susceptible to heart attacks than men. She said this is just one of a number of myths surrounding heart disease and stroke.

"One myth is that it is a male disease. That is false. [Number] Two, is that it is a rich country disease. That too is false. Of the 17 million deaths around the world, 80 percent of them occur in low and middle income countries. Another myth is that it simply is an old person's disease," Ms. Voute said.

She said people also are increasingly at risk of suffering heart disease when they are older because of the life style choices they make at an early age.

She said that because of these misconceptions, the health of women's hearts are being seriously neglected by the medical community and by women themselves, and many of them are "under-treated."

"Historically, physicians have been focused on men's risk of heart disease and stroke, whereas, women die more often from stroke than do men," she said.

The World Heart Federation cites smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity as major risk factors. It said more than half of all female deaths and disability from heart disease and stroke could be cut, if women quit smoking, ate a healthier diet and engaged in moderate exercise every day.