February is Healthy Heart Month and All Care is pleased to publish a blog series covering what you need to know about heart disease, how to reduce your risk, the different effects of heart disease in women, signs and symptoms of a heart attack, as well as how to incorporate healthy habits and recipes into your lifestyle to increase the health of your heart.
Part V: Women & Heart Disease
Heart disease is an umbrella term for any type of disorder that affects the heart. Heart disease means the same as cardiac disease but not cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease refers to disorders of the blood vessels and heart, while heart disease refers to just the heart.
What’s Different for Women & Heart Disease?
Heart disease kills more women every year than all forms of cancer combined however only 56% of women know that heart disease is their most common cause of death. For white and African-American women, heart disease will be their leading killer while heart disease and cancer will claim equal lives from Latina women. Almost two thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms-meaning even if you have no signs or symptoms of heart disease you may still wind up a victim of this mass killer. After all, 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
Heart disease and heart attacks often manifest themselves differently in men than women, mostly because there is a difference in plaque and blockage pattern in men and women. Dr. C. Noel Bairy Merz, a cardiologist who is the director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars Sinai Heart Institute believes women’s heart disease should be referred to as Ischemic Heart Disease which indicates a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the heart.
The primary heart disease in men is Coronary Artery Disease, meaning there is a plaque buildup in the arteries around the heart. Women with ischemic heart disease usually have smaller coronary blood vessels that cease to constrict or dilate properly but can have major arteries that are entirely clear of plaque. This means that women can have normal stress tests and angiograms even while suffering from ischemic heart disease making it that much more important for doctors to take symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath into consideration when diagnosing female patients and not rely solely on test results.
Women & Heart Attacks
Both men and women can experience some of the same common symptoms of a heart attack: pain in the center of the chest, shortness of breath, pain in the arms, back, and/or jaw, nausea, light-headedness, and dizziness. Women, however, are more likely to experience these other common symptoms of a heart attack: heartburn, loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, coughing, or heart flutters. These symptoms can come on suddenly but they can also take hours, days, or even weeks to develop. The more signs and symptoms of a heart attack you have, the more likely it is that you are, in fact, suffering a heart attack. It’s also important to note that if you have had a previous heart attack, you may not experience the same symptoms as before, so be sure to educate yourself on all the signs and symptoms so you can act fast and avoid further damage to your heart.
If you suspect you are having a heart attack or you aren’t sure, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY. Do NOT attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Women tend to downplay their symptoms more often than men and statistically arrive at the hospital after heart damage has already occurred more than their male counterparts. In fact, one recent study found that only 30% of men took as long to get to the hospital as the average woman. The reason? Women waited longer to call for emergency assistance. Yup, you read that correctly, ladies. A scary and disheartening statistic, no wonder a woman dies every minute in America from heart disease. Time to make yourself a priority!
Know Your Risk Factors!
Certain risk factors for heart disease play a much bigger role in women’s health than men.
- Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease in women significantly more than in men
- Metabolic Syndrome is a combination of fat around the abdomen (lovingly referred to as “The Muffin Top”), high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high triglycerides has a greater impact on women
- Smoking increases risk of heart disease greater and sooner in women
- Mental Health specifically stress & depression have a greater effect on women’s hearts
- Physical Activity, a sedentary lifestyle greatly increases the risk of developing heart disease in women, who, evidently, are statistically less active than men
- Hormones affect your heart in different ways; lower levels of estrogen post-menopause poses a risk for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels, known as Microvascular Disease
- Menopausal Hormone Therapy, or MHT, can increase the chances of heart attack or stroke
- Early Menopause can be an indicator of an increased risk of developing heart disease. Women who enter menopause before the age of 46 are at a greater risk for heart disease as the cessation of ovulation could be an indicator of unhealthy or damaged blood vessels
- Pregnancy increases the amount of blood your heart pumps by 30-50% to accommodate for your growing baby, which in turn increases the risks of developing heart rhythm issues, heart valve issues, congestive heart failure, or passing on a congenital heart defect to your baby
- Pregnancy Complications like high blood pressure or diabetes increases a woman’s long-term risk of developing heart disease
- Premature Birth- women who were born prematurely are twice as likely to develop heart disease
Screening & Prevention:
While 1 in 31 American women will die from breast cancer, 1 in 3 American women will die from heart disease.
As mentioned above, over 90% of women have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease.
The most common risk factors are:
- Excess Weight
- Unhealthy Diet
- Physical Inactivity
- Excessive Alcohol Consumption
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
To reduce your risk of developing heart disease, it’s important to stay educated, involved, and proactive in your own health.
Steps to Reduce Your Risk:
- Consult Your Doctor- know your blood pressure, get it checked regularly. Discuss whether it would be appropriate to be tested for diabetes, have your cholesterol and triglycerides checked regularly, monitor and/or manage with medication if necessary
- Quit Smoking, better yet, don’t start!
- Limit Alcohol Intake to one drink a day-if its red wine or beer you will actually be helping strengthen your heart!
- Make Healthy Food Choices like more leafy green vegetables and fruits and less sodium
Lower Your Stress! Practicing saying no and letting go! Find healthy ways to cope with added stress in your lifeBy managing pre-existing health conditions and by being proactive about reducing your personal risk factors, you can lower your chances of developing heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease, the number one killer of American females yet only 1 in 5 American women believe it is their greatest health risk. Ladies, know the facts, know your risks, and don’t become a statistic.
In continuation with our February Heart Health Blog Series, be sure to come back and check out our next installment where we will share some great heart healthy recipes and some tips to make healthier food choices in your diet.