Heart Disease in Women

National Women's Health Week is all about celebrating women, the achievements made in the treatment of women for medical issues, and encouraging women to move toward a healthier lifestyle.

Today I write about the number one killer of women, heart disease. The symptoms a woman experiences are much different than those of a man. The most common heart attack symptom in women is pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it is not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, and women may have a heart attack without experiencing chest pain. Other symptoms women experience in the absence of chest pain that may indicate a heart attack include: 

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Right arm pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or Dizziness
  • Unusual Fatigue

Because these signs and symptoms can also be related to stress and are often mild, women frequently do not seek medical attention until after damage to the heart has been done.  Emergency medical attention is the best way to limit damage to the heart. If you have any of the above symptoms seek medical help.

Risk factors for heart disease in women include:

  • Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease significantly more in women than in men.
  • Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
  • Mental stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms of depression.
  • Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
  • A lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and as a group, women tend to be less active than men.
  • Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (microvascular disease).
  • Pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase a woman's long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and increase the risk of development of heart disease in both the mother and in her children.

Reduce your risk of heart disease through some simple lifestyle changes. 

  • Quit or don't start smoking.
  • Exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week, or 60 to 90 minutes if you need to lose weight.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a diet that's low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.

You'll also need to take prescribed medications appropriately, such as blood pressure medications, blood thinners and aspirin. And you'll need to better manage other conditions that are risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.*

For help beginning an exercise program, make an appointment for a wellness assessment. We can assist you in designing an exercise program tailored to your needs, to help you achieve your fitness goals and maintain a healthy heart!

Enjoy this short video from Michiana Go Red for Women where survivors of heart disease discuss their stories!

* Information taken from the Mayo Clinic website.