While most people think of February as the month of Valentine’s Day and love, it is also American Heart Month, a time to show your love for yourself, family and friends by learning about your risks for heart disease and stroke. “Knowing your risks and learning how to recognize symptoms of a heart attack are the best ways to stay “heart healthy” and the best Valentine’s Day gift you can ever give,” said Theresa Brosnan-Schuler, ANP-BC, Sheboygan Internal Medicine Associates, S.C.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is the number one killer of women and men in the United States and the leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities.
“Most people think heart disease is a man’s disease, yet more women than men die of heart disease each year,” said Brosnan-Schuler. The reason for this is that the heart disease symptoms in women are often different from symptoms in men. Fortunately, women can take steps to understand their unique symptoms of heart disease and to begin to reduce their risk of heart disease.
“There are important facts about heart disease that many women may not know, for instance heart disease does not affect all women in the same way and the warning signs for women aren’t the same warning signs men experience,” said Brosnan-Schuler.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year; that is approximately one woman every minute!
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, called the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what is happening. However, most heart attacks start slow, with mild pain or discomfort. “It is not uncommon for people affected with slow starting heart attacks to be unsure of what is wrong and they often wait too long before getting help.
“All women face the threat of heart disease, but women who learn about symptoms and the risks unique to women are taking the first steps in protecting themselves,” said Brosnan-Schuler.
Remember: minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1 or your emergency response number.
Learning the signs and risks of heart disease is important. If you have a family history of heart disease, or are unsure about your risks, talk to your health care provider. “There are things women need to in order for them to be able to reduce their risk for developing heart disease,” said Brosnan-Schuler.
The most common symptom of a heart attack – in everyone – is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. However, in women, the pains is not always severe, or even the most prominent symptom. In fact, women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
Shortness of breath
Nausea or vomiting
Lightheadedness or dizziness
“These symptoms are subtler than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. As a result, many women tend to show up in emergency rooms after serious heart damage has already occurred,” said Brosnan-Schuler.
If you experience these symptoms or think you’re having a heart attack, call 911. Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room unless you have no other options.
The traditional risk factors for heart disease – high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity – affect women and men, but there are other factors that may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. For example:
• Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
• Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment. Talk to your health care provider if you’re having symptoms of depression.
• Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
• Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (small vessel heart disease)
REDUCE YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE
The best way for women to reduce their risk for heart disease is to commit to the following lifestyle behaviors.
Exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Quit or don’t start smoking.
Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.
Talk to your health care provider to learn more about your risks and work with him/her to help you manage other conditions that are contributing risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
There are several misconceptions about heart disease in women and they could be putting you at risk. No one solution is right for everyone. “That is why it is important to talk to your health care provider to ensure that you have the correct information for your individual health record. Doing what is right for you could not only reduce your risks for heart disease, it can save your life,” said Brosnan-Schuler.
For more information about heart disease, visit the American Heart Association’s website, http://www.heart.org