Carrie Fisher's Death Highlights a Problem Facing All Women

December 27th 2016

Mike Rothschild

The death of iconic actress and writer Carrie Fisher from a heart attack has put the spotlight on heart disease, which kills women at a higher rate than any other ailment.

carrie fisher

According to data in USA Today, 1 in 3 women are living with some form of cardiovascular disease.

And more women will die from a heart-related incident than all forms of cancer combined. These include a variety of different maladies, including sudden heart attack, cardiac arrest (an electrical impulse problem in the heart), and chronic heart disease.

While heart disease is sometimes seen as mostly a problem for men, women are more likely to die from it. And while many of the symptoms of a heart attack are similar for both men and women, it can sometimes be more difficult for women to realize their suffering from an attack.

That's because for women, heart attacks are often a collection of innocuous symptoms such as shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, pain in the jaw, or nausea. These can easily be written off as normal every-day issues or illnesses.

These minor distinctions in symptoms can make a big difference.

As CBS News reported in 2013, the Journal of the American Medical Associated studied more than one million heart attack incidents and determined two sobering statistics. First, 42-percent of women experienced heart attacks without experiencing chest pain, compared to only 30-percent of men. Second, the mortality rate among women for heart attacks was 14 percent, compared to just 10 percent for men.

Following Fisher's death, ABC News' Chief Women's Health Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton urged women to err on the side of caution if they thought they might be experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.

"If you are a woman, and you are feeling something bizarre from your jaw to your belly button, call 911, think heart attack," she said. "It's better to be wrong than to be dead."