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What Intermountain Health Experts Want Women to Know About Their Heart Health

Sheralee Petersen is a cardiovascular physician associate and assistant vice president of clinical program at Intermountain Health.

(PRUnderground) February 20th, 2024

While many think about breast cancer awareness when it comes to women’s health concerns, an even more significant threat to women’s health is heart disease – especially since, in many cases, the devastating consequences of heart disease are preventable.

“The fact is, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year,” said Sheralee Petersen, PA-C, assistant vice president of clinical program at Intermountain Health. “That’s approximately one woman every minute!”

But it doesn’t affect all women alike, and the warning signs for women aren’t the same in men.

What’s more: These facts only begin to scratch the surface.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in United States. Anyone, including children, can develop heart disease. “It affects both men and women and afflicts people from all racial and ethnic groups, “said Petersen. “Because it affects such a large percentage of the population, it’s important that everyone knows facts about heart disease and signs and symptoms to look out for.”

Heart disease is a killer that strikes more women than men and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease is the cause of one out of every three deaths. That’s roughly one death each minute.

  • Cardiovascular disease ranks first among all disease categories in hospital discharges for women.
  • Nearly 37 percent of all female deaths in America occur from heart disease, which includes coronary heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Cardiovascular disease is a particularly important problem among minority women. The death rate due to heart disease is substantially higher in black women than in white women.
  • At age 40 and older, 23 percent of women compared with 18 percent of men will die within one year after a heart attack.
  • Misperceptions still exist that heart disease is not a real problem for women.
  • “Heart disease is at least six times more likely to kill a woman than breast cancer and we need to do more to prevent heart disease, similar to the excellent local and national efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer,” said Sheralee Peterson, PA-C, cardiovascular physician associate and assistant vice president for clinical programs for Intermountain Health.

February is National Heart Awareness Month, a great time to assess your heart health. Intermountain Healthcare is the leader of advanced heart care in Utah and in the nation. During the month, Intermountain will be providing education and information on heart disease to help you stay as healthy as possible.

Four lifestyle changes can improve the odds for most women: quit smoking, increase the frequency and intensity of physical activity, eat a heart healthy diet, and reduce caloric intake to maintain a heart-healthy weight.

Intermountain Health heart experts offer the following advice to women:

  1. Don’t smoke. If you do, quit.

If you smoke, quit. A smoker’s risk of heart attack is more than twice that of non-smokers. Smoking narrows your blood vessels, which makes it harder to breathe. Smoking also increases your blood pressure and heart rate, which contributes to cardiovascular disease. Smoking also increases your risk of an early death. Stopping smoking improves your overall health and quality of life.

  1. Exercise Regularly

Fewer people are getting enough exercise. It’s estimated that up to 250,000 deaths per year in the United States – about 12 percent of all deaths – are due to a lack of regular physical activity.

Even low-to-moderate intensity activities, when done for as little as 30 minutes a day, can bring benefits. These activities include pleasure walking, climbing stairs, gardening, yard work, moderate-to-heavy housework, dancing, and home exercise.

More vigorous aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, running, swimming, and bicycling – done three or four times a week for 30-60 minutes – are best for improving the fitness of the heart and lungs.

  1. Watch What You Eat

Avoid foods high in fat and cholesterol, which can clog arteries and lead to heart problems. The average American consumes excess calories, which contribute to obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and cardiovascular disease.

Eating more fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of heart attack, stroke and has been found to lower your blood pressure. Reducing salt can lower your blood pressure.

The best way to lose weight is to work with your doctor to develop an individualized, healthy plan.

To learn more about heart health and Intermountain Health’s heart program, click here.

About Intermountain Health

Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called Select Health with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see

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