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Gender Disparities in the Battle Against Heart-Related Deaths

September 11, 2009

Heart Pic-1When I order a pizza with extra cheese and sausage for dinner last night, heart disease clearly wasn’t at the forefront of my thoughts.  However, according to published statistics by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease ranks as the number ONE cause of death among U.S. Americans followed by cancer and strokes.  In the most recent CDC publication, heart disease accounted for 26% of all deaths in 2006 amounting to more than 600,000 deaths.  Even though heart disease afflicted men more than women at a rate of 1.5x more, a recent study featured in the New York Times shows women are still at great risk.  The published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association cited an alarming disparity between death rates of men and women following a heart attack or unstable angina.  In fact, researchers found women are twice as likely to die within 30 days after experiencing a heart attack or unstable angina.  The disparity is believed to be due to women having more compounding factors at the time of incidence such as older age.

Preventative care is a key component to avoiding heart disease, so below is a short (but not comprehensive) list of ways to lower your risk of heart disease*:

  • Exercise:  The American Heart Association/American College of Sports Medicine recommend individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 have 30 minutes of moderately intensive activity five days a week
  • Smoking:  By choosing to quit smoking you will decrease your risk of repeat heart attacks and death from heart disease by as much as 50 percent
  • Diet:  Prevent obesity by following the caloric intake chart according to the American Heart Association
  • Fatty Food:  Avoid food high in fat, but remember not all fat is harmful.  The two fats often referred to by physicians and dietitians are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).  LDL cholesterol is considered “bad cholesterol” and leads to heart disease; however, HDL cholesterol is considered “good cholesterol” and higher levels of HDL have been associated with decreased risk of heart disease.  By avoiding foods high in saturated fats it’s possible to reduce your LDL cholesterol
  • Omega-3 Fish Oil:  A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology recommended healthy individuals consume 500 mg/day and people with known heart disease consume 800-1,000 mg/day to reduce their incidence of cardiac events and mortality.  You can include omega-3 fish oil in your diet via a supplement tablet or eating fish (herring, mackerel, salmon, albacore tuna, sardines and oysters)

If the enormous sum of information regarding preventative care for heart disease is overwhelming or you need more guidance, speak with your primary care physician.  Your physician can often help you gain access to other resources such as registered dietitians and smoking cessation clinics.  Another option for obtaining free access to support in quitting smoking is the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.  It varies from state-to-state and county-to-county, but further government assistance may be available to help you quit smoking (a good starting point locally would be your county department of public health).

On a slightly different but parting note…after reviewing the CDC’s mortality data I noticed males were 2.2 times more likely to die from unintentional injuries (accidents).  My gender might be in the process of self-selecting itself from the population.

*Even though all the preventative care suggestions were compiled from sources such as the American Heart Association, Cleveland Clinic, and medical journals; you should realize I’m currently in my medical training and only a little more than 25% medical doctor.  Therefore I suggest you speak with your physician prior to altering your exercise routine, diet, or food/supplements.

Based in Chicago, Illinois, Yale Fillingham is currently pursuing his medical degree and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biophysical Chemistry from Dartmouth College.  You can contact him at

  1. October 13, 2009 6:46 am

    Certain drugs can elevate cholesterol levels. These include steroids, oral contraceptives, furosemide (Lasix) and other diuretics, and levodopa (L-dopa, sold under the brand names Dopar, Larodopar, and Sinemet), which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Beta-blockers, often prescribed to control high blood pressure, can cause unfavourable changes in the ratio of LDL to HDL in the blood. Cigarette smoke contains large quantities of free radicals, many known to oxidise LDL cholesterol, making them more likely to be deposited on the walls of the blood vessels. The effect of cigarette smoke may be due to the direct oxidation of lipids and proteins, and it may also have indirect effects, such as the depletion of various antioxidant defences, which then allow other cellular processes (inflammation, for example) to modify LDL. In addition, smoking increases levels of LDL, lowers levels of HDL and increases the blood’s tendency to form clots. Underactive Thyroid and stress also result in an overproduction of natural cholesterol, and obesity causes unfavourable changes in serum lipoprotein levels.


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