Carrie Fisher’s Death Shines Light On Women’s Heart Issues


The tragic death of Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher is shining a necessary light on heart disease and how it affects women.

Fisher passed away on Dec. 27, at the age of 60. The Star Wars actress went into cardiac arrest while flying from London to Los Angeles on Dec. 23. She was rushed to a California hospital and treated for a heart attack, but eventually died at the facility.

Data from the American Heart Association shows that 43 million women are living with heart disease, many of whom don’t even know it. One woman dies roughly every minute from a stroke, sudden cardiac arrest or heart attack.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined,” said Dr. Jennifer Mieres, professor of cardiology and population health at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead, N.Y., to USA Today

Many of these heart-related tragedies often seem sudden. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that nearly two-thirds of women who die from heart disease didn’t display symptoms previously. Rates of heart attacks among women also seem to increase 10 years after they develop menopause, although there isn’t a direct correlation between the two.

Family history and lifestyle choices do play a major role, though. A lack of exercise, diabetes and obesity create more potent risks for heart-related issues in women than men, while smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are also significant risks. Those who have inflammatory disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis are also at higher risk. Family history also accounts for about 20% of heart disease risk.

In addition, depression doubles the risk of heart attack, death or requiring artery-opening procedures in women age 55 and younger. Women also have a higher heart disease risk if they sleep less than six hours per night and suffer from chronic stress.

Luckily, the American Heart Associated also noted that 80% of heart-related issues can be prevented by controlling risk factors. This includes adopting a healthy diet, not smoking, exercising regularly and maintaining proper weight.

It’s also important for women to know their target numbers, listed below before visiting their doctor.

Blood pressure: Keep the systolic, top number, below 120 millimeters of mercury and the diastolic, the bottom number, at less than 80 mm Hg.

Cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein levels should be 129 milligrams per deciliter of blood or lower. High-density lipoprotein levels should be 60 mg/dL or higher.

Triglycerides: Normal is less than 150 mg/dL.

Blood sugar: Less than 5.7% on the A1C test is normal. Another test measures blood sugar levels after an overnight fast. Less than 100 milligrams per deciliter of blood is considered normal.