Heart attacks and strokes kill some 8.6 million women each year, more than twice as many as all cancers combined, and there is far too little awareness of the risks, the World Health Organization said Friday.
"Although most women fear cancer, particularly breast cancer, they do not make the same efforts to safeguard themselves from heart disease, which is eminently preventable," said Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus, head of WHO's noncommunicable disease and mental health division.
This year's World Heart Day, which falls on Sunday, is devoted to women in a bid to raise awareness that cardiovascular disease is not just a problem for men.
In a statement, the World Heart Federation said that 18 times more women died from heart disease and strokes than from breast cancer. It said that medical professionals and women themselves underestimated the scale of the problem.
The federation said that more than half of all female deaths and disability from heart disease and stroke could be cut by Simple action such as healthier diets, more exercise and quitting smoking. It said that women who took an oral contraceptive and smoked up to 15 cigarettes a day were five times more likely to develop heart disease. Those smoking more than 15 cigarettes a day were 20 more times at risk.