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What Disease is the #1 Killer of Women?

Filed in
  • heart disease
  • Sleep apnea

American Academy of Sleep Medicine  |  Feb 10, 2009
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Did you guess cancer? You're close, but wrong. Diabetes? You're getting colder. The answer: In the U.S. heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Surprised?

Don't feel bad if you got the answer wrong; you're not alone. The NHLBI reports that 35 percent of women are unaware that heart disease is the leading killer of women.

February is American Heart Month. So now is the perfect time to think about your own heart health.

Using 2004 data the CDC reports that 27.2 percent of deaths among women are due to heart disease. Cancer comes in second place at 22 percent. Stroke is third at 7.5 percent, and diabetes is seventh at 7.1 percent.

The raw numbers are even more striking. In 2005 heart disease took the lives of 329,250 women – more women than men. Cancer deaths: 268,890 women – including 69,105 due to lung cancer and 41,116 due to breast cancer.

The CDC also reports that heart disease affects large numbers of younger women: It is the third-leading cause of death for women between the ages of 25 and 44.

Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking. You also have a higher risk if you are overweight or obese.

Another risk factor for heart disease that often is overlooked is obstructive sleep apnea. But sleep apnea and snoring are just for men, right? Wrong.

Sleep apnea is common in women; but women are less likely than men to receive medical help for it.

Warning signs for sleep apnea include pauses in breathing, loud and erratic snoring, and gasping for breath during sleep. Women with sleep apnea also are likely to complain of restless sleep, daytime sleepiness, insomnia and even depression.

Are you at risk for sleep apnea? Complete this online questionnaire to find out.