Women's Heart Health

Just the Facts:

  • Heart disease is the number one killer of American women
  • Heart disease kills ten times more women than breast cancer
  • Women are less likely to survive heart attacks than men
  • The death rate from heart disease is declining for men, but not for women

In spite of these facts, 92 percent of American women do not identify heart disease as a major problem. This lack of awareness leads women to ignore warning signs of heart problems and delay getting treatment.

The best way to fight heart disease is by learning the facts, warning signs and risk factors. The more you know, the better armed you are to protect your health.

10 Ways to Help your Heart:

  • Don't smoke—the risk of heart attack for smokers is twice that of nonsmokers
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day—even low intensity activities such as brisk walking, gardening and housework can be helpful
  • Eat wisely—regularly eat vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • Lower your cholesterol—reduce your intake of saturated fats, such as whole milk products, butter and cheeses; avoid red meat and shellfish
  • Control your blood pressure—check it regularly; avoid foods that are high in salt
  • Lose weight—a well balanced diet and exercise can help you lose unwanted pounds
  • Manage your diabetes—work with your doctor to manage this chronic condition
  • Manage stress—relax more, exercise regularly and get enough sleep
  • Limit your alcohol—one drink a day may lower your risk of heart disease; drinking more than this can be harmful
  • Visit your doctor—for regular checkups

Know Your Risk Factors

You need to determine whether you are at risk for developing heart disease and then reduce those risk factors that are in your control.

Risk Factors that Can't be Changed:

  • Increasing age—those 65 years and older are at higher risk
  • Heredity—a family history of heart disease; Africian Americans appear to be at a higher risk than Caucasians

Risk Factors You Can Control:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Obesity and overweight
  • Physical inactivity

Common Heart Conditions and Warning Signs

In the fight against heart disease, it is vital to learn the warning signs of the most common heart problems and act quickly if symptoms appear.

Heart Attack

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense but most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. That's why it's important to learn the signs of a heart attack.

Classic Signs of a Heart Attack:

  • Severe chest pain, pressure or squeezing that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and then comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or in the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Sweating

Additional Signs of Heart Attack More Common to Women:

  • Fatigue or unexplained weakness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion or gas-like pain
  • Discomfort between the shoulder blades
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Sense of impending doom

If you experience these warning signs, don't wait longer than five minutes to call 911. Get to a hospital right away.

Stroke

Treating a stroke immediately is critical for stopping permanent damage or death. Stroke is a life-or-death emergency. Don't wait to see whether the symptoms go away before calling 911. High blood pressure is a woman's most important risk factor for stroke.

Symptoms include:

  • Excruciating headache
  • Numbness or paralysis in the face, arm or leg
  • Confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty walking, dizziness or loss of coordination

If you think your are having a stroke, chew and swallow an aspirin to thin your blood while you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Cardiac Arrhythmia

Cardiac arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. Arrhythmias are very common, especially as you get older, and most are harmless. But if they last for some time, they can become life threatening.

Everyone occasionally "skips a beat" but you should see your doctor if these symptoms are severe and consistent:

  • Throbbing
  • Pounding
  • Thumping
  • Fluttering

You may also feel dizzy or faint; you may have chest pain or shortness of breath.

Aneurysm

Aneurysm is the swelling or "ballooning" of a blood vessel. This happens when there is a weak point in the vessel wall. If you have high blood pressure, the weakened point can be pushed out forming a balloon-like bulge. A woman can have an aneurysm that is small and not causing any symptoms. If an aneurysm is growing, it may rupture and can quickly lead to stroke and death. However, if it is found in time and operated on, there is a high patient survival rate.

Brain aneurysm symptoms that may occur hours or days prior to rupture:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stiff neck

Signs of Ruptured Stomach Aneurysms:

  • Pain or throbbing in the stomach
  • Severe lower back pain

Signs of Ruptured Chest Aneurysms:

  • Pain in the shoulder, back or abdomen
  • Hoarseness/loss of voice
  • Coughing up blood
  • Dry cough
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing

Signs of Ruptured Leg Aneurysms:

  • Pain or throbbing in the groin
  • Pain or throbbing behind the knee

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Heart failure means your heart is unable to pump blood to the rest of the body at a normal rate. When this happens, excess fluid backs up into the lungs and other parts of the body. CHF can happen at any age but it is more common among older people. Your heart can be weakened over time by some underlying problem such as high blood pressure, previous heart attacks, infections of the heart, irregular heart beat, diabetes, or excessive alcohol consumption.

CHF usually develops slowly and can go for years without any noticeable symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, common symptoms include:

  • Sudden weight gain
  • Breathlessness during activity, at rest or while sleeping
  • Persistent cough that may include mucus or blood
  • Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Lack of appetite, nausea or indigestion
  • Swollen neck veins
  • Cold and sweaty skin
  • Confusion, impaired thinking or memory loss
  • Increased heart rate

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