Did you know an estimated
44 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease each year, according to the
American Heart Association (AHA)? Heart disease is the
No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths per year—that’s nearly one death every minute.
The more you know about heart disease, the better your chance of fighting
it. There are a number of misconceptions about heart disease in women—for
example, many heart attack symptoms in women are not the same as those
in men. By educating yourself on the symptoms, prevention, and treatment
of heart disease, and taking action to educate and raise awareness of
the disease, you can help more women live healthier lives.
Know the Symptoms of Heart Disease
Heart disease is a lifelong disorder that affects the blood vessels and
cardiovascular system. Plaque buildup—made of several substances
including cholesterol—thickens and stiffens artery walls, which
can inhibit the flow of blood from the arteries to organs and tissues.
When buildup narrows the arteries making it harder for blood to flow,
a blood clot can form. That’s when a heart attack or stroke can occur.
During a heart attack, an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and
nutrients from getting to the heart. Symptoms of a heart attack in women include:
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Severe pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest
that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual fatigue
Chest pain or discomfort is not always as severe or even prominent a heart
attack symptom in women. Sometimes, women may even have a heart attack
without chest pain. Rather, women experience symptoms that are less obvious,
and women sometimes blame these symptoms on stress, acid reflux, or other
Aside from heart attacks, heart disease can cause other issues and symptoms,
like heart failure or congestive heart failure. This means the heart is
still working, but it’s not pumping enough blood through the body
or not delivering enough oxygen. Arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms
can occur, where the heart is beating too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
This can affect the heart’s functionality and whether or not blood
flows properly to other parts of the body.
Sometimes because of heart disease, the heart valves don’t close
or blood leaks through, causing blood to flow backward instead. Other
times, women may experience a stroke, or sudden weakness, paralysis, or
numbness of the face, arms, and legs, especially on one side of the body.
Additional stroke symptoms can include confusion, trouble speaking, dizziness,
loss of balance or coordination, and loss of consciousness.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of heart disease or think
you may be experiencing a heart attack or stroke, call for emergency medical
help immediately. Do
not drive yourself to the hospital, unless it’s your only option.
Factors That Increase the Risk of Heart Disease in Women
Whether they’re 19 or 90, women of all ages can be affected by heart
disease. For younger women, the combination of smoking and taking birth
control pills can
increase the risk for heart disease by 20 percent. For others, overeating that leads to obesity and high cholesterol in
combination with a sedentary lifestyle can result in heart disease later in life.
Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. Those risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- High BMI (body mass index)
- High cholesterol
- Family history of heart disease
- History of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
- Lack of physical activity
- Low levels of estrogen after menopause
- Pregnancy complications like high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy
- Mental stress and depression
Broken heart syndrome, which is caused by stressful situations that can cause severe (but often
temporary) heart muscle failure
How to Prevent or Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
The good news is you’re never too young or too old to take care of
your heart. There are a number of heart-healthy choices you can start
making today to prevent heart disease and reduce your risk for the disease
now and later in life.
- Eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains,
and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Follow a regular exercise routine.
- Know the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.
- Know your family history.
- Lower or manage your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Maintain a healthy weight.
- Practice stress management techniques.
Quit—or don’t start—smoking.
- Schedule regular wellness visits with your primary care provider to learn
about your personal risk for heart disease.
Living with Heart Disease
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with heart disease, you’re
not alone. While there’s no cure for the disease, there are things
you can do each day to live the healthiest life possible. Treatment for
heart disease may include lifestyle changes, medications, medical and
surgical procedures, and cardiac rehabilitation.
The goals with all treatment are to:
- Lower the risk of blood clots
- Prevent complications
- Reduce risk factors to slow, stop, or reverse plaque buildup
- Relieve the symptoms of heart disease
- Widen or bypass plaque-covered arteries
Some women need a procedure or surgery—like an angioplasty or coronary
artery bypass grafting—to treat their heart disease. Others may
benefit from cardiac rehab under medical supervision. This includes exercise
training to strengthen the muscles and improve stamina, and education,
counseling, and training to understand heart disease and develop ways
to lower risk for future heart problems.
Wear Red for Women!
Frederick Regional Health System invites you to join the fight against heart disease in women. The first
Friday of February—Feb. 2, 2018—is
National Wear Red Day. By adding red to your wardrobe, you can help bring attention to the devastating
heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.
Since National Wear Red Day began in 2003, 15 years ago, the
AHA has made tremendous progress in fighting against heart disease:
- 6 out of 10 women have changed their diets
- Death in women has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years
- More than one-third have lost weight
- Nearly 300 fewer women die from heart disease and stroke each day
- Nearly 90% of women have made at least one healthy behavior change
Here’s what you can do to raise awareness for heart disease and encourage
others to do the same on Feb. 2 and all month long:
Wear red! Encourage friends, family, and coworkers to do the same.
Take a photo and share them using the hashtag #WearRed or #GoRed.
Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Like and share photos and stories
of others’ experiences with heart disease.
- Talk to your friends and family about heart disease in women, and make
sure you’re aware of your family history of heart disease.
By advocating and sharing your story, more women can be saved! Educate
yourself and your loved ones about heart disease, and learn your own numbers today.
Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider today—call 240-566-3300.