Eighty percent of all heart disease is preventable – and heart disease does affect women. In fact, it is the leading cause of death among women in the U.S. So it is very important for women of all ages to learn the facts about heart disease and know the symptoms, because there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and get treatment when you most need it.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
Many different factors can put women at risk for developing heart disease. Some things are out of your control. However, it is important to understand how the following risk factors contribute to your chances of developing heart disease:
- Age - Research indicates that about 6 out of 100 women in their 40’s will develop coronary heart disease growing to nearly 1 out of 5 women in their 80’s.
- Family History of Heart Disease - You are at greater risk if a close family member, a parent, brother, sister or grandparent developed heart disease before age 59.
- Race – African–American women are at higher risk of developing heart disease as compared to women of other races.
Risk factors more under your control include:
- Smoking – Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times and women who smoke have a 25 percent higher risk of developing heart disease than men who smoke.
- Obesity - Excess body weight puts a strain on your heart, raising your blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. Obesity also increases your risk for developing diabetes.
- Diabetes- Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without the condition.
- High Blood Pressure (HBP) - Elevated blood pressure makes the heart work harder. Chronic HBP scars and damages your arteries and can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and
- Lack of Physical Activity - A lack of physical activity comes with great risks as a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk for blood clots, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart related problems.
- High Cholesterol - Cholesterol hardens over time into plaque which can narrow the artery walls and reduce blood flow leading to blood clots, heart attacks or strokes.
The ABCs of Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms
Heart disease symptoms can be different for women than men. They are sometimes subtler in nature and harder to identify. Because women tend to dismiss their symptoms as not significant, they are more likely to have a silent heart attack or die during their first heart attack.
The following is an ABC listing of heart disease symptoms to help guide you.
- Angina: pain, discomfort or fullness in the chest. (Women also report pain in the jaw, right arm or abdomen.)
- Breathlessness: experienced during activities or waking up breathless at night
- Blackouts: fainting
- Chronic fatigue: an inability to complete routine activities and a constant feeling of tiredness
- Dizziness: this can indicate irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias
- Edema: swelling, particularly of the lower legs and ankles
- Fluttering heartbeats: palpations, rapid heartbeats that may cause pain or difficulty breathing
- Gastric upset: nausea or vomiting, unrelated to diet, indigestion or abdominal pain
If you experience any of these symptoms frequently (about once a day), see a physician—the symptoms are serious and should not be ignored. Keep notes about when the symptoms occur, what triggers them, and what, if anything, relieves them. It is also helpful to make a list of past treatment and all medications you are currently taking.
How can I prevent heart disease?
There are steps you can take today to prevent heart disease. Here are some ways you can stay healthy:
- Identify behaviors that contribute to your risk (smoking, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise)
- Ask your physician about your numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, body mass index or BMI
- Learn about your family history
- Discuss all of the above with your physician
We urge you to start on the road to become heart healthy today. Learn more about heart disease. Seek out guidance and support from medical professionals. Heart disease can be treated, prevented and even ended.