Every minute in the United States, someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister dies from heart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease (CVD). More than one in three women is living with CVD, including nearly half of all African-American women and 34 percent of white women. Although heart disease death rates among men have declined steadily over the last 25 years, rates among women have fallen at a slower rate.
One challenge is that the heart disease symptoms in women can be different from symptoms in men. Fortunately, women can take steps to understand their unique symptoms of heart disease and to begin to reduce their risk of heart disease.
The most common heart attack symptom in women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it’s not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, particularly in women. Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
Although the traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — affect women and men, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. For example:
- Metabolic syndrome has a greater impact on women than on men.
- Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s.
- Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
- Low levels of estrogen after menopause
These symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart.
Women under the age of 65 who have a family history of heart disease should pay particularly close attention to the heart disease risk factors. Women of all ages should take heart disease seriously. The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to get heart disease. But women of all ages should be concerned about heart disease. All women can take steps to prevent it by practicing healthy lifestyle habits.
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease:
- Exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit or don’t start smoking.
- Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.
The physicians of Henderson & Walton Women’s Center, P.C. are advocates of educating women regarding their risks for cardiovascular disease. But, it is equally important that women know their risks and family history. If you are at a high risk for cardiovascular disease talk to your physician and make it your New Year’s resolution to make the appropriate lifestyle changes to ensure that you will be on the road to a healthy life.