According to the CDC, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, with 292,188 reported deaths in 2009. Risk factors include diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, high-blood pressure, smoking and alcohol abuse. Mental stress, depression, metabolic syndrome, and low levels of estrogen can also increase risk. Heart disease, while normally accepted as a man’s illness, actually causes more female fatalities each year. Because of this, women need to be educated about their own specific signs and symptoms of heart disease as they can differ from men’s.
Heart Attack Signs
Normally a heart attack is accompanied by pain and/or tightness in the chest, but these symptoms may not be as prominent in women. Even though chest pain is the leading symptom of a heart attack in both men and women, the Mayo Clinic states that women are more likely than men to have pain or discomfort somewhere else, such as the shoulder, neck, jaw, upper-back, and abdominal area. And because these symptoms are not always obvious or prominent, women stand to incur greater damage to the heart by the time the problem is found and treated.
Other symptoms include shortness of breath, pain in the right arm, vomiting or feeling nauseous, sweating, dizziness or feeling lightheaded, and feeling unusually tired. Many of these same symptoms mimic symptoms of other issues, such as menopause or hormonal fluctuations. Menopause can cause sweating, heart palpitations, and fatigue. The problem here is menopause also increases a woman’s risk for developing heart disease, which is all the more reason to be aware of changes and discussing them with your physician.
What Can You Do?
Begin early and be informed. Heart disease in heritable, so if it runs in your family, you’ll know to take preventative steps and prepare ahead. This is especially true if a close relative, such as father, mother, brother or sister, have been diagnosed with heart disease. Know your risk factors and work on eliminating them. Leading an active lifestyle, eating healthy foods and healthy fats, and being aware of symptoms is just the first step. Women -especially those with high risk factors -need to be proactive with their health by scheduling an appointment with their primary doctor. If they can’t do the tests you want done, have them refer you to someone who can. And women, don’t be afraid to put yourselves first sometimes. Where would we be without you?