By Jennifer Sams, MD, FACC
Cardiologist, Community Heart and Vascular Hospital
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for 25% of female deaths. Unfortunately, only 54% of women are aware that heart disease is their number one killer. Often thought of as a “man’s disease,” heart disease kills more women than men each year.
Thus, women need to be aware of not only what symptoms to be concerned about, but also know what they can do to prevent heart disease. A large part of prevention is education, awareness, and knowing your individual risk factors.
Symptoms of a heart attack
The classic symptoms of a heart attack described in a textbook or seen in a movie include clutching one’s chest and experiencing the sensation of an elephant sitting on your chest. This chest pressure is often brought on by either physical or emotional stress, may radiate into the left arm, and is relieved with rest or sublingual nitroglycerin.
While some women may experience chest pain, several have other, more atypical symptoms that do not involve chest pain and thus might get ignored. These symptoms are diverse and may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Back or jaw pain
- Excessive sweating
The best thing a woman can do is to be proactive about her health. If you are experiencing any new symptoms, regardless of how typical or atypical they may be, talk to your physician rather than ignoring them.
Risk factors for heart disease
To prevent heart disease, a woman needs to be aware of the risk factors she has to develop heart disease. Typical risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Family history
- Smoking (smoking more than doubles your risk of having a heart attack)
Prevent heart disease
Women should see their doctors and know their numbers. What is your blood pressure? What is your most recent cholesterol? Half of Americans have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoke.
To help reduce risk of heart disease, a woman should address the risk factors she can control, see her physician, and take medications that are prescribed. Visit our online risk factor assessment Know Your Numbers to get started today.
In addition, there are several lifestyle changes a woman can make to reduce her risk of heart disease. These include:
- Daily exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes
- Avoiding tobacco products
- Following a healthy diet that is low in saturation and trans fats, cholesterol, and salt