Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. Those who have the condition may be unaware of the situation until something happens. This is in part because women have different symptoms than men in many instances.
Statistics: Heart disease kills 600,000 people a year. 220,000 of them are women. 42.9 million women have some form of cardiovascular disease. 2.6 million have had at least one heart attack.
Risk Factors: Some risk factors can’t be controlled. Age, family history, being past menopause and having high blood pressure in pregnancy, gestational diabetes and a low birth weight baby are on that list.
The factors that can be controlled are diet, weight, exercise, smoking, uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain illnesses such as diabetes and the use of birth control pills. The latter is even more dangerous if smoking is involved.
Symptoms: While it is possible that women will feel the classic symptoms of chest pain or pressure, that isn’t always the case. Many women associate heart attack symptoms with gastric disorders. Heartburn, nausea and vomiting are common. Other symptoms may include tingling in the arms or legs, and there may be pain in the jaw, arm or upper back.
Why are the Symptoms Different? Men usually have coronary artery disease in the large blood vessels that supply the heart with blood. Women can have this problem in the smaller arteries. This can happen in younger women. 50% of the women who have cardiac catheterization don’t have obstructive heart disease.
What can I do? Two things are important here. Prevention is best. Lose weight, exercise more, eat a healthy diet. If you smoke, stop. Have regular checkups to test for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about other preventative measures.
The second is know the symptoms and what to do. Some of the links in this article have a full list of symptoms a woman might feel indicating a heart attack. If you notice them, go to the emergency room or call 911.
Educate Others: This is another area you can be helpful. Make sure the women in your life…family and friends…are aware of the symptoms, the risk factors and what to do both to prevent and/or deal with heart disease. You could save someone’s life.