Facts about Heart Disease in Women
In the United States, heart disease takes the life of one woman every minute. About one in four women dies of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for American women. Still, heart disease is often considered a “man’s disease” and many women do not realize how serious it is. Knowing the symptoms and risk factors, as well as preventive measures you can take, can mean the difference between life and death.
Symptoms of heart trouble can be different for women than they are for men. While men typically experience crushing chest pain, the indication that something is wrong can be less clear for women. In fact, some women have no symptoms at all. 64 percent of women who die suddenly from heart disease have no previous symptoms, but for those who do have symptoms, the warning signs are often unrelated to chest pain. Signs of a heart attack can include:
- Pain in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
Of course, a heart attack is not the only heart condition that affects women. Arrhythmia can cause fluttering feelings in the chest, and signs of heart failure may include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen. A woman having a stroke may experience sudden weakness, paralysis or numbness of the face, arms, or legs, or other symptoms that include confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, difficulty seeing, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, loss of consciousness, or a sudden, severe headache. These symptoms can happen when a woman is resting and can be triggered by mental stress.
One difficulty in treating heart disease in women is that women tend to go to the emergency room after the heart has already been damaged. This is sometimes because women don’t know the symptoms, but it can also be because they downplay their own health concerns and prioritize other things, like work and family. The best thing a woman can do for her health is to see her physician regularly, know her own risk factors, and be proactive in making positive lifestyle choices to prevent heart disease.
What are the risk factors for heart disease? High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are major factors, and about half of Americans have at least one of these risk factors. However, there are also many other conditions that can put women at a higher risk of developing heart disease.
- Diabetes puts women at a greater risk than men with diabetes.
- Excess weight increases the risk of heart disease and raises the probability of developing other risk factors.
- A poor diet and inactivity raise the risk of heart disease, and so does excessive use of alcohol.
- Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than it affects men’s.
- Pregnancy complications like high blood pressure or gestational diabetes can increase a woman’s long-term risk for developing heart disease.
- Menopause and the accompanying low levels of estrogen pose a risk for developing heart disease in the smaller blood vessels.
- Some treatments for cancer can raise the risk of heart disease, and women with inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus may be at a higher risk.
How can you reduce your risk of developing heart trouble? There are lifestyle changes that can make a big difference in your cardiac health. Steer clear of cigarettes, and make sure you’re paying attention to your health, managing problems like diabetes and high blood pressure or cholesterol. Eat a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and whole grains, while avoiding processed foods, saturated or trans fat, added sugar, and foods high in salt. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink per day, and find healthy ways to manage stress. Exercise is important too, and it’s recommended that you aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, at least five days per week.
Finally, be your own advocate when it comes to your health. Sometimes, doctors fail to notice the subtler signs of heart disease, and serious conditions go undiagnosed. If you think something is not right, push for a thorough examination. Don’t brush off or downplay your symptoms, do prioritize your own health. If your doctor isn’t willing to take you seriously, get a second opinion.
If you have questions about medical care or treatment, or a catastrophic injury, don’t delay in calling Pegalis & Erickson, LLC for a no-fee consultation! We obtain justice for our clients after hospitals, doctors, construction companies, and drivers commit preventable errors that cause harm. Reach us through our website or call (516) 684-2900.
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