Although it’s often considered a “man’s problem,” heart disease is a serious threat to women’s health. Every year, heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, claims women and men in equal numbers—approximately 1 in every 4 deaths.
The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) say only 54% of women recognize that heart disease is their #1 killer. This can cause women to ignore symptoms, delay screenings and ultimately put themselves at risk.
Heart disease typically manifests itself in men at a younger age than in women. Women, however, do later have a “catch-up effect”, often with a vengeance, because their mortality rates with single cardiac events are higher than for men and they are typically older when these events occur.
Heart disease is often silent, or at least unrecognized. Symptoms of heart disease in women are different than in their male counterparts. The classic symptoms of a typical heart attack include a dull or heavy chest pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw or throat. Other subtle heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain that may go unnoticed or be dismissed by women include shortness of breath, nausea, seating, lightheadedness, fatigue or pain in the arms. These symptoms can be triggered by physical activity or mental stress, and can even occur when women are resting.
And, sometimes, there are no symptoms at all—making regular screenings more important than ever for women.
Typical risk factors linked to heart disease include diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. A family history of premature atherosclerosis is common, but is sometimes challenging to dissect away from shared family lifestyles. Other risk factors include dietary misbehavior, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.
What can you do to lower your risk for heart disease? I encourage you to know your personal health numbers for your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index. These are important numbers and key indicators of your risk for heart disease. If you have a family history of heart disease, speak to your primary healthcare provider about preventative measures.
While you can change your jeans, you can’t modify your genes; you can protect your heart by adopting heart-healthy habits:
- Quit or don’t smoke
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Lower your cholesterol
- Manage your blood sugar
- Get your blood pressure under control
Remember that prevention, early and accurate diagnosis, and treatment are critical for your heart health.