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What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a term used to refer to diseases of the heart and blood vessel system. A more correct term is “cardiovascular diseases“, and includes such diseases as coronary heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, chest pain (also called “angina“), and rheumatic heart disease.

Coronary heart disease is the primary concern as it is the leading killer of Americans. It is a disease of the blood vessels of the heart that causes heart attacks. A heart attack happens when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart. A stroke results from a lack of blood flow to the brain, or, in some cases, bleeding in the brain.

Risk factors make one more susceptible to getting heart disease. Risk factors are traits or lifestyle habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be changed, like older age or family history. Other risk factors can be changed, or at least modified. Take the on-line quiz to find out if you're at risk. Go to Women's Heart Checklist.

graphic of artery clogged with atherosclerosis

Graphic of atherosclerotic plaque.
Source: Health Edco. Used by permission.

Some groups of women are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than other groups. Black women are 24 percent more likely to die of coronary heart disease than white women, and their death rate for stroke is 83 percent higher. Older women have a greater chance of developing cardiovascular diseases than younger women, partly because the tendency to have heart-related problems increases with age. Older women, for example, are more likely to develop high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels, to be diabetic, to be overweight, and to exercise less than younger women. Also, after menopause, women are more apt to get cardiovascular diseases, in part because their bodies produce less estrogen. Women who have had early menopause, either naturally or by means of hysterectomy, are twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease as women of the same age who have not begun menopause.

Changing Habits

As Americans have learned to control blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar (if diabetic) and make healthful lifestyle changes, in their smoking, eating and exercise habits, death rates for heart attack and stroke have dropped, but, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death for American women. This website offers you some “self-help” strategies for a healthy heart, informs you of how heart disease affects women differently and connects you to resources to help you win the battle against America's number one killer: heart disease.

But, here comes the hard part... How motivated are you to changing your habits? Perhaps you are pregnant and you want to have a healthy baby. Perhaps you had a recent physical and were told that you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Or, maybe you've noticed your energy level dwindling... you get short-winded easily and you just aren't feeling your best. Whatever the reason, you recognize the need for change. The next step is to ask yourself if you are ready to make heart-healthy changes. Use the Confidence Rating Scale below as a measurement of your potential to achieve your goals. If you are at least 70% ready to make healthy changes then let us help you succeed!

C o n f i d e n c e   R a t i n g  S c a l e


unwilling to change  / somewhat willing  / seriously considering change  / I think I can do it.  / I know I will do it!
    0%     20%     50%     70%     100%




Resources Available by Mail or Phone

   Federal Government

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Information Center
P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
(301) 592-8573

Public and patient education materials on high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and heart disease are available. Publications include: Facts about High Blood Pressure, Eating to Lower Your High Blood Cholesterol, Check Your Weight and Heart Disease IQ, and Check Your Smoking IQ: An Important Quiz for Older Smokers. The NHLBI also offers a number of fact sheets on heart disease-related topics such as Facts About Coronary Heart Disease. A directory of publications is available. All materials are now available online at www.nhlbi.gov.



Consumer Information Center (CIC)
Pueblo, CO 81009

The Consumer Information Catalog from the CIC lists over 200 free or low-cost booklets on consumer topics. Many are health-related and include booklets on nutrition, foods, exercise, women's health, and smoking.
Write for a free copy.




Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Office of Consumer Affairs, HFE-88
5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857
(301) 443-3170

The FDA offers publications on topics such as general drug information, medical devices, and food-related subjects including fiber, fats, sodium, and cholesterol. The FDA also publishes a monthly journal, FDA Consumer, which reports on recent developments in the regulation of foods, drugs, and cosmetics. Recent articles have covered topics such as heart bypass surgery, balloon angioplasty, dieting, and nutrition for women. Subscriptions can be ordered through the Consumer Information Catalog listed above. To order materials, contact the FDA at the address above or contact the consumer affairs office nearest you. Copies are available free of charge.



Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC)
National Agricultutal Library
10301 Baltimore Avenue, Room 304, Beltsville, MD 20705-2351
(301) 504-5917

The FNIC answers questions concerning food and nutrition and provides database searches, bibliographies, and resource guides on a wide variety of food and nutrition topics.



Human Nutrition Information Service (HNIS) Department of Agriculture
6505 Belcrest Road, Room 328 A, Hyattsville, MD 20782
(301) 436-8617

HNIS reports results of research on food consumption, food composition, and dietary guidance in both technical and popular publications. A list of Department of Agriculture publications is available.



National Cancer Institute (NCI) Office of Cancer Communications, Bldg. 31, Room 10A24, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892>br> (800) 4-CANCER; (301) 496-5583

The NCI provides information of how to stop smoking. Publications includes: Why Do You Smoke? (a self-test); Clearing the Air; A Guide to Quitting Smoking; and Guia Para Dejar e Fumar. Publications are available free of charge.



National Clearinghouse of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Information (NCADI)
P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20852
(800) 729-6686; (301) 486-2600

NCADI is the central point within the Federal Government for current print and audio-visual information about alcohol and other drugs. Publications for women include: Alcohol Alert #10; Alcohol and Women; Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs May Harm the Unborn; and Women and Alcohol. A publication catalog is available.



National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)
Vox NDIC, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892 (301) 468-2162.

The NDIC provides information to diabetic patients and provides materials on topics such as diabetes management and treatment, nutrition, dental care, insulin, and self-blood glucose monitoring. Topical bibliographies are produced on subjects such as diet and nutrition, sports and exercise, pregnancy. A bimonthly newsletter, Diabetes Dateline, is also available. Some mailing fees may apply.



Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
National Health Information Center (ONHIC)m P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133 (800) 336-4797; (301) 565-4167

The ONHIC helps the public and health professionals locate health information through identification of health information resources, and information and referral system, and publications. The ONHIC provides resource guides on a variety of health-related topics. A publications list is available.



Office on Smoking and Health (OSH)
Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Mail Stop K-50, Center for Disease Control, 1600 Clifton Road, N.E., Atlanta, GA 30333
(404) 488-5705

The Office on Smoking and Health provides information on smoking cessation. Current titles include: Out of the Ashes: Choosing a Method to Quit Smoking; At a Glance--The Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General: Is Your Baby Smoking?; and a poster: Pregnant? That's Two Good Reasons to Quit. Single copies are available free of charge.



Superintendent of Documents
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402-9352
(202) 783-3238

The Superintendent of Documents makes available many health-related publication from Government Agencies. There are charges for publications. Write for a free copy of U.S. Government Books and New Books to receive information on what is available.


Voluntary Health Agencies

American Cancer Society (ACS)
1599 Clifton Road, N.E., Atlanta, GA 30329
(404) 320-3333; (800) ACS-2345

Contact the local chapters or the national office for information. The ACS provides materials, individual and group support, self-help groups, and a speakers bureau. Publications include: How Can We Reach You?, which describes risks specific to women who smoke and rips for quitting without weight gain; Why Start Life Under a Cloud; Eating Smart; and Nutrition, Common Sense, and Cancer. The Taking Control program provides an introduction to a healthful, enjoyable lifestyle and may reduce one's risk of developing cancer. All publications and services are free.


American Diabetes Association
1660 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
(800) 232-3472; (703) 549-1500

Contact the local chapters or the national office. The group offers patient and family education activities such as educational meetings, weekend retreats, counseling and discussion, self-help, and support groups. Patient education publications include: Diabetes in the Family; Diabetes: A to Z; and the Family Cookbook series. Diabetes Forecast, a monthly magazine, and Diabetes, a quarterly newsletter, are available. There are membership fees and costs for some publications.



American Heart Association (AHA)
National Center, 7320 Greenville Avenue, Dallas, TX 75231
(214) 373-6300

The AHA provides fact sheets, brochures, and audio-visuals on topics such as general cardiovascular disease risk reduction, exercise, high blood pressure, smoking, and nutrition. Publications include: What Every Woman Should Know About high Blood Pressure; About Your Heart and Blood Pressure; American Heart Association Diet: An Eating Plan for Healthy Americans; Now You're Cookin': Healthful Recipes to Help Control High Blood Pressure; Eat Well, But Eat Wisely -- To Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attack; Exercise and Your Heart; and more. Write to the national office or the local AHA affiliate nearest to you. Single copies of most publications are free.



American Lung Association (ALA)
1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 (212) 315-8700

The ALA and its local affiliates conduct smoking cessation programs and offer a catalog of publications, including many on smoking. The Stop Smoking, Stay Trim booklet explains how stopping smoking affects weight and what you can do to prevent weight gain. Freedom From Smoking in 20 Days is a self-help quit smoking program. Other publications include: Q and A of Smoking and Health; Because You Love Your Baby; and Facts About Nicotine, Addiction, and Cigarettes. Contact your local ALA affiliate or write to the above address. Some fees may apply.



Women's Heart Foundation (WHF)
P.O. Box 7827, West Trenton, NJ 08628
(609) 771-9600

WHF programs address heart disease specifically as it affects women. The 12 Healthy Hearts brochure topics include: Improve Communication with Your Doctor; Get Smart About Smoking; A self-paced Guide to Quitting Smoking; Reading Food Labels; Counting Fat Grams; Taking Medications Safely; Guide to Self-Monitoring Your Blood Pressure; Heart Attack; Is it a Panic Attack or Heart Attack?; and Taking Coumadin® at Home. All 12 Guides and 3 fact sheets (on heart disease, stroke and medication safety) are available without charge by sending two first-class stamps with your order. 3 Free Guides are available by providing a stamped, self-addressed envelope(please specify guides). Community slide programs and faith-based wellness programs are available on Recognizing Heart Disease in Women and Medication Safety and Taking Dietary Supplements: Facts, Fiction and Fundamentals. You may call or write to WHF or complete your order form on this website.



Professional Associations

American Dietetic Association (ADA)
216 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 899-0040


The ADA offers cookbooks and other materials for consumers designed to educate about food and nutrition. These include: Low-fat Living: A Guide to Enjoying a Healthful Diet; Food Facts: What You Should Know About Nutrition and Health; and Food 3: Eating the Moderate Fat and Cholesterol Way. Write or call for price information.

The National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics is the public education initiative of the ADA. It sponsors a consumer nutrition hotline that can be reached at (800) 366-1655 (9:00-4:00, central time). Callers can listen to recorded messages on current issues in nutrition or speak to a registered dietitian.



Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, NHLBI, “The Healthy Heart Handbook.“ NIH Publication No. 92-2720

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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.