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Women face a higher risk than men for several health conditions. Do your part to safeguard yourself from these seven threats.

May 6, 2024

By Amber Stephens, MD
Optum – Main
Dunedin, Florida

As you age, it’s important to take care of your health. This is especially true for older adult women who are more susceptible to certain health conditions. Here are seven of the most common health issues women over 65 years old face, including tips for how to reduce your risk of developing them.

1: Heart disease
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. People aged 65 and over are more likely than younger individuals to experience a heart attack, stroke, arrhythmias, or develop heart disease or heart failure.

Women can have health issues that increase their risk of cardiovascular disease. These include hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, Diabetes Mellitus (both Types 1 and 2) and obesity. Hypertension is underdiagnosed in women and increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.[1]

2: Cancer
Cancer affects people of all ages, though the risk increases with age. An estimated 2 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer in 2023. It is the second leading cause of death for senior women.

The most common cancers for women over 65 are breast, lung and colorectal. Breast cancer is the most common in women of all ages. Catching cancer early can save your life, so see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything unusual. Get regular cancer screenings such as mammograms and colorectal cancer screenings, especially after age 65. Talk to your doctor about what tests are right for you. The best way to prevent cancer is to stop smoking. New research shows that alcohol intake is also linked to cancer. Alcohol is linked to 6% of cancers nationally, including breast and colon cancers. This is true for all types of alcohol.[2]

3: Stroke
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in women, and it is the leading cause of disability. According to the CDC, one in five women between the ages of 55 and 75 will have a stroke.

Women are more likely to develop a stroke than men, and their risk increases as they age. The reasons for this are complex, but it is likely due to a combination of factors including hormonal differences, lifestyle choices and genetics. It is important for women to be aware of their risk of stroke and to take steps to reduce their risk. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising frequently, seeing a doctor regularly, and managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.[3]

4: Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is a serious chronic disease that affects the way your body turns food into energy. There’s no sugar-coating the facts. In 2023, the CDC reported 29.2%, or 16.5 million adults 65 and older have diabetes.[4] While both type 1 and type 2 diabetics have higher risks of complications, type 2 is more common as people age secondary to lifestyle choices.

Diabetes is a serious problem for older adults. It can lead to a number of health complications, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, nerve damage, blindness, falls, fractures and other injuries. Women are more likely to experience these complications than men. Actively managing blood sugar levels and managing comorbid conditions can help to reduce the risk of complications.[5]

5: Alzheimer’s disease/dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects memory, thinking and behavior. While there can be several causes for dementia, the most common are related to vascular dementia (similar causes to heart disease and stroke) and Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is becoming known as “Type 3 Diabetes Mellitus” as research increases. This encourages healthy living and timely medical care to prevent the disease. In the United States, nearly 4 million of the more than 6 million people with Alzheimer’s disease are women. Women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they are to develop breast cancer. In fact, one in five women aged 65 and older will develop the disease.[6]

6: Obesity

Obesity in older women in the United States is on the rise. More than two-thirds of older adults in the United States are either obese or overweight. 46% of women (ages 65 to 74) and older are obese.[7]

Obesity is a major risk factor for several chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. It is also associated with a higher risk of death.

7: Osteoporosis

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, half of all women over the age of 50 will eventually develop osteoporosis, and 80% of Americans with osteoporosis are women.[8]

Women also sustain 75 to 80%  of all hip fractures. For older adults, a hip fracture can often mean the end of independent living and admission into a nursing home. Osteoporosis can be a serious threat to an aging woman’s ability to live an independent, self-directed life. The mortality rate for hip fractures is high, so it is important to screen people for osteoporosis at 65 years old and discuss treatment options with a doctor.


Regular visits to your doctor are an essential part of staying healthy. Your doctor can help you prevent and manage your health conditions. It is important to be honest with your doctor about your symptoms so they can get a complete picture of your health. Early detection is key to managing many health conditions. By seeing your doctor regularly, you can catch potential problems early on, when they are easier to treat.

Tips for women over 65 to reduce the risk of disease include:

  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Get regular exercise, including strength training
  • Get enough sleep
  • Manage stress
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol intake
  • Get regular screenings for cancer and other diseases


[1] Women and Heart Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 2024

[2] Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Cancer? Learn About the Risks, Memorial Slaon Kettering Cancer Center, January 3, 2024

[3] Woman and Stroke: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 4, 2023

[4] National Diabetes Statistics Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 29, 2023

[5] Diabetes and Women, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 19, 2024

[6] Women and Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s Association

[7] Rising Obesity in an Aging America: Policy and Program Implications, PRB, 2022

[8] Osteoporosis Risk Factors, UC San Diego Health, 2024

Amber Stephens, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician. She received her medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia and completed her residency at Bayfront Family Medicine in St. Petersburg, Florida. Dr. Stephens is affiliated with Optum–Main Clinic.

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