How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Heart Disease
To lower your chances of getting heart disease, its important to do the following:7
- Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so its important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Learn more about high blood pressure.
- Talk to your doctor or health care team about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your risk of heart disease.8 Learn more about diabetes.
- Quit smoking. If you dont smoke, dont start. If you do smoke, learn ways to quit.
- Discuss checking your blood cholesterol and triglycerides with your doctor. Learn more about cholesterol.
- Make healthy food choices. Having overweight or obesity raises your risk of heart disease. Learn more about overweight and obesity.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink to one drink a day. Learn more about alcohol.
- Manage stress levels by finding healthy ways to cope with stress. Learn more about coping with stress.
I Thought I Had The Flu
Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, women often chalk up the symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal aging.
They do this because they are scared and because they put their families first, Goldberg said. There are still many women who are shocked that they could be having a heart attack.
A heart attack strikes someone about every 43 seconds. It occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because the arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances .
Many women think the signs of a heart attack are unmistakable the image of the elephant comes to mind but in fact they can be subtler and sometimes confusing.
You could feel so short of breath, as though you ran a marathon, but you haven’t made a move, Goldberg said.
Some women experiencing a heart attack describe upper back pressure that feels like squeezing or a rope being tied around them, Goldberg said. Dizziness, lightheadedness or actually fainting are other symptoms to look for.
Many women I see take an aspirin if they think they are having a heart attack and never call 911, Goldberg said. But if they think about taking an aspirin for their heart attack, they should also call 911.
Tips For Women To Achieve A Stronger Heart
Six key tips for women to achieve a healthier and stronger heart are:
Control your risk factors: Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease, so its important to manage these conditions. Talk to your healthcare provider about an effective treatment plan.
Dont smoke: If you smoke, try to quit.
Maintain a healthy weight and get regular physical activity: Walking is a great way to start getting active and begin to lose or maintain a healthy weight, though it is important to speak with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
Eat a heart-healthy diet: A diet thats full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is good for your heart. Limit the amount of saturated fat and sugary beverages in your diet.
Talk with your doctor about aspirin: Daily use of low-dose aspirin is not right for everyone. Aspirin can have side effects, so talk with your healthcare provider first.
Know the symptoms of a heart attack: Symptoms of heart attacks in women can be different from those in men. For women, they may include shortness of breath, nausea, and an ache or feeling of tightness in the chest, arm, neck, jaw, or abdomen.
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Dont Hesitate To Call 911
You might not have all of these heart attack warning signs. But if youre having any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Dont wait.
In her work, Dr. Lee has seen both younger and older women put off going to the doctor even when theyre feeling heart attack symptoms. Young women are often focused on being the caretaker for their children or elderly parents, and they dont come into the hospital because theres no one else to take care of their children or parents, she says.
On the flip side, Dr. Lee has seen older women who are widowed and live alone not want to bother their children or friends. These women may be having chest pain, but they dont want to bother people. So they sit at home and hope the symptoms go away, she says. Sometimes, they dont drive and are too embarrassed to ask for help.
I think a lot of times women are used to being the caregivers, so when they themselves need help they arent used to asking for it, Dr. Lee says. This could be another reason why women wait so long to get care for heart attacks.
But its important to listen to your body and prioritize your health.
Bottom line: If youre not sure if youre having a heart attack, come into the hospital to get checked out. The earlier you come in for medical care, Dr. Lee says, the earlier we can start therapy and the less damage there will be to the heart.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Isnt Always So Sudden
But when these symptoms appear when theyre actually having a heart attack, they think the symptoms are going to go away again, but they dont, McSweeney said.
Consequently, women might wait longer before going to the hospital, McSweeney suggested. And those differences can complicate the diagnostic process when those women do seek medical help.
The symptoms, if theyre not completely classic, dont trigger alarm bells in patients themselves or the people initially taking care of them, Gerhard-Herman said.
Theres also a gender gap when it comes to heart attack outcomes. Women are prone to more complications than men after a heart attack, in part because their blood vessels are typically smaller. Women are also prescribed the recommended interventions including cardiac rehabilitation and medications less frequently than are men. The reasons for that arent clear.
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Women Are More Likely To Die After A Heart Attack6
In the past, women who had heart attacks waited longer to get help, compared to men. This is still true for women today who are younger than 55 and have heart attacks. Researchers don’t know all of the reasons why women often do worse after heart attack, but waiting to get help might be one of them.5
Did We Answer Your Question About Heart Attack
For more information about heart attack, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:
- Heart Attack â Information from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Heart Attack â Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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Women Have Risk Factors Men Dont Have
Certain diseases that only affect women, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease, diabetes and high blood pressure that develop during pregnancy, increase the risk of coronary artery disease, the leading cause of heart attack. Endometriosis has been found to raise the risk of developing CAD by 400% in women under age 40.
Women also share traditional risk factors with men: high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol levels, smoking and obesity. Like men, women can be impacted by a family history of heart disease, particularly when a father or brother was diagnosed with CAD before age 55, or a mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65.
Know Your Risk Factors For Heart Disease
Preventing or controlling heart disease may mean making changes in the way you live. A healthy heart requires a personal action plan. But where do you start? A complete health checkup is a sensible first step, especially if you have many risk factors. Your healthcare provider can tell if you have cardiovascular disease or its risk factors. If so, they can help you with a practical treatment plan. Even if you don’t have any risk factors now, you can discuss ways to lessen your chances of developing them.
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease that are specific to women include:
History of using or current use of birth control pills
Pregnancy and the high-risk complications of pregnancy. These include diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and eclampsia.
Risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease that both men and women can have in common include:
Personal history of atherosclerosis, including coronary artery disease, ischemic stroke, and peripheral arterial disease
Age over 55
Male relative under the age 55 or female relative under the age of 65 with coronary heart disease
High blood pressure
High levels of LDL cholesterol or low levels of HDL cholesterol
Type 1 or 2 diabetes
Chronic kidney disease
History of smoking or current smoker or tobacco user
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Do Women Experience Different Heart Attack Symptoms
It is important to remember that everyone experiences different heart attack symptoms. The symptoms of a subsequent heart attack may be different from the first.
Women are more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms without chest discomfort. If they do have tightness, pressure or discomfort in the chest, this discomfort may not always be severe or even the most noticeable symptom.
Sometimes a person can have no heart attack symptoms at all. In these cases the heart attack isn’t diagnosed until it is picked up by a clinician at a later date. This is sometimes called a silent heart attack.
Symptoms Of A Heart Attack
About every 43 seconds, someone in the US has a heart attack.
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. Common symptoms in men and women include:
- Discomfort or pain in the center or left side of your chest. The feeling may last for a few minutes or may go away and return. It can feel like squeezing, pressure, pain, or fullness.
- Pain or discomfort in your jaw, back, or neck
- Pain or discomfort in one or both shoulders or arms
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
- Feeling light-headed, faint, or weak
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
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Signs And Symptoms Of Heart Attack
If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack In Women
Heart attacks are often stereotyped as something that happens to older men, not women. But heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.1 Yet only about half of women know this.1
Plus, the way women experience a heart attack can feel different from men. While both men and women may have chest pain during a heart attack, women tend to have symptoms in addition to chest pain.
Researchers found that when women have a heart attack, theyre more likely to experience 3 or more related symptoms compared to men.2 These symptoms may include jaw pain, neck pain, back pain, and shortness of breath, and can make it hard for women to tell if theyre having a heart attack.
Women are also more likely than men to think their heart attack symptoms are caused by anxiety and stress.2 Oftentimes, this misunderstanding combined with a wider range of symptoms can cause women to wait longer to get treated.
Several studies have shown that women wait longer to get treatment for a heart attack than men, says Mingsum Lee, MD, a clinical cardiologist at Kaiser Permanentes Los Angeles Medical Center.
So, its important to learn these symptoms of a heart attack and know when to seek care.
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Key Differences Between Heart Attacks In Men And Women
Some of the major differences between heart attacks in men and women are:
- Plaque build-up in arteries can differ between sexeswomen are less likely to undergo stenting to open blocked arteries, but still suffer from blood vessel damage and reduced blood flow.
- High blood pressure is a stronger risk factor for women than men, and diabetes increases womens risk of heart disease fivefold.
- Guideline-recommended medications are underused in women versus men, and women are less likely to be recommended cardiac rehabilitation.
- Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, and nausea and vomiting, as opposed to chest pains as an early sign of a heart attack.
- Women may not experience chest pain or discomfort when having a heart attack, the symptom that is often referred to as the first clear indicator of an attack.
- Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath and extreme fatigue as a telltale symptom.
- Women are twelve times more likely to experience throat discomfort than men during a heart attack.
When Should You Call 911 For A Heart Problem
At certain times, calling 911 right away is a must. If youre having chest pressure or chest tightness that started that day, you should not wait to go to your general practitioner, says Dr. Cho. Go to the emergency room.
You should also call 911 and get help right away if you have chest pain or discomfort along with any of the following symptoms, especially if they last longer than five minutes:
- Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Sweating or cold sweat.
- Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
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I Felt Like I Was Hiking Mount Evereston Flat Ground
“I was on what was supposed to be an easy hike with my friend, when all of a sudden I felt super breathless , and I had pain shooting down my left arm.
“I sat down on a rock and told my friend I felt finethe hike should’ve been easy, I had just completed a half marathon and was recently checked out by my doctor for mild chest painbut he didn’t believe me and rushed me to the doctor.
“When I got there, the doctors found that the left main artery of my heart was 98 percent blocked and the blockage was very close to my hearta condition referred to as “the widow maker” because it’s so often lethal. I was just 33 years old and in great shape, but it turns out I carry a gene that greatly increases my risk of heart disease.
“Since that fateful day, I had three surgeries and five stents put in. I also need to follow a strict vegan, low-cholesterol diet. But today I’m doing great and back to doing the activities I love, including starting my own fitness company.”
Other Potential Heart Attack Signs
Heart attack signs look different for everyone, although there are a few common ones to watch for.
- Neck, jaw, arm, and back pain: Pain radiating to your jaw, back, neck, or arms may signal a heart condition, especially if the origin is hard to pinpoint. For example, you might feel pain, but no specific muscle or joint aches. If the discomfort begins or worsens when you are exerting yourself, and then stops when you quit exercising, you should also get it checked out.
- Unexpected sweating: During menopause, many women experience hot flashes. However, sudden or excessive sweating associated with other symptoms such as nausea or chest pressure can also be a heart attack sign. Stress sweat when there is no real cause for stress, or sweating or shortness of breath accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest pain or fatigue, can be cause for concern.
- Chest pain: Chest pain/pressure is a very common heart attack sign, but can feel different than you might think. We need to dig deeper into the symptom of chest pain for both men and women as it relates to heart attacks, Dr. Cho says. It is seldom as dramatic as you might think, and it can feel like pressure or heart burn that comes on over time.
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What Should I Do If I Think Someone Else Is Having A Heart Attack
If a friend, family member or coworker is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away. If the person dismisses her symptoms, gently but firmly encourage her to seek medical care. Its better to get help for a false alarm than to risk disability or death by ignoring signs of a heart attack. If the person is unconscious and doesnt have a pulse, begin CPR. Learning CPR is an invaluable life-saving skill. It can help keep a patient alive until emergency help arrives.
Common Heart Attack Symptoms In Women Over 50
Women and men may experience different heart attack symptoms. For women, these symptoms can be classified as typical or atypical. Typical symptoms include chest pain that feels like pressure, squeezing, or stabbing pains in the center or left side of the chest. Discomfort and pain in the arms is also considered a typical symptom, most notably in the left arm. This pain can also spread to the neck and jaw. Typical symptoms also include nausea and vomiting, as well as shortness of breath and fatigue.
Atypical symptoms experienced by women over 50 who are suffering a heart attack include abdominal pain or discomfort, excessive sweating, lightheadedness and dizziness, toothache, weak or irregular pulse, and unusual levels of anxiety and stress.
Women may also experience indigestion, nausea, and stomach pain. This can be a result of fatty deposits blocking arteries, which limits blood flow resulting in angina. For some, angina presents itself as pain. In others, the signal can be sent to your stomach causing digestive distress. Women over the age of 60 are more likely to experience indigestion because of an impending cardiac event. Stomach pains may also worsen with physical activity and improve at rest. If this occurs, see your doctor.
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