Heart Disease: What every woman needs to know

It’s a common misperception that heart disease mainly affects men. The truth, however, is that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. Even though women have fewer heart attacks than men, women are 60 percent more likely to die in the first year after an attack. Given these facts, here’s some basic health information about heart disease that every woman needs to take to heart.

Risk Factors
The most common risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, affect both women and men. For women, however, other risk factors often play a bigger role in developing heart disease, including diabetes, stress, depression, smoking, lack of physical activity or a family history of early heart disease.

In addition, post-menopausal women with low levels of estrogen have a greater risk of developing heart disease in smaller blood vessels. In addition, women are much more likely to suffer from inflammatory diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis which increase the risk of heart disease.

Risk Prevention
Up to 80 percent of heart disease is preventable. The following recommendations for heart-healthy living work for both women and men.

• Quit smoking. If you don’t smoke don’t start.
• Exercise regularly. Try to get 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise such as walking.
• Maintain a healthy weight. Losing just a few pound can lower your blood pressure.
• Eat a healthy diet. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats, sugar and high amounts of salt.
• Manage your stress. Being under stress can cause your arteries to tighten.
• Drink alcohol moderately. Try to limit yourself to one drink a day.

Heart Attack Symptoms
For both men and women, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, pressure or discomfort. However, this chest pain is usually not as severe in women, who are also more likely to experience other symptoms such as:

• Discomfort in the neck, jaw and upper back
• Shortness of breath
• Pain in one or both arms
• Nausea or vomiting
• Lightheadedness or dizziness
• Unusual fatigue
• Indigestion

In women, these symptoms can often be vague and not as noticeable. As a result, women are less likely to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and suffer more heart damage before seeking help. If you ever think you may be having a heart attack, don’t take chances. Call 9-1-1 immediately.

Sources: Mayo Clinic, CDC, New York Times

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