Every minute in the United States, someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister dies from heart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact, more than one in three women today, is living with CVD. Although heart disease death rates among men have declined steadily over the last 25 years, rates among women are falling at a slower rate.
Women: Putting your own health first is the best gift you can give your family
One of the reasons women’s heart disease rates are falling at a slower pace than men’s is due to an overall lack of awareness of the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women and women’s tendency to put the health of their family ahead of their own. Movie scenes of a man gasping, or clutching his chest and then falling to the ground are common and what many people think a heart attack looks like. “In reality, the ‘scene’ of a woman having a heart attack is quite different and is often not be that dramatic,” said Elizabeth L. Zurich, DO, Sheboygan Internal Medicine Associates.
While both men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across their chest, women can have a heart attack without the chest pressure. “Instead, women may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue,” said Dr. Zurich.
The signs for women are subtler than for men and the consequences, of not acting on them right away, can be fatal. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, women are twice as likely as men to die within the first few weeks after suffering a heart attack. This is a staggering statistic, but it can be improved through awareness, regular check-ups, lifestyle modifications and timely screenings. Too often, women say, ‘I thought I had the flu.’ And go on about their day taking care of children, spouses, houses, work – chalking it up to conditions like acid reflux, the flu or an aging issue. “Many of my women patients think heart disease is an old person’s disease, but the data does not agree,” said Dr. Zurich the fact is that, heart attacks occurring in women under the age 50, are twice as likely as men’s to be fatal.
Dr Zurich urges women to become aware of the signs and risk factors that lead to heart disease and suggests that you talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns. “It is important to take an active role in your health. Talk to your doctor to understand your risks and identify lifestyle modifications that will help in reduce or eliminate your risk of heart disease,” said Dr. Zurich.
Heart Attack Signs in Women
1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Major Risk Factors that Can’t Be Changed
The risk factors listed below are ones you are born with and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease.
• Increasing Age
• Heredity (Including Race)
Since you can’t do anything about these risk factors, it’s even more important for you to manage the risk factors that can be changed.