Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women today. But as a woman, even if you know that, you’re probably too busy most days to think about it.
Cardiovascular disease develops over time, affecting your body in ways you might not notice until it is too late.
You can learn ways to reduce your risks, recognize the warning signs of a heart attack, and advocate to get the help you need.
Worldwide, cardiovascular disease is the single most common cause of death among women regardless of race and ethnicity, and yet many women are still dangerously unaware that they are at risk, especially African-American and Hispanic women.
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart attacks in women. According to the Women’s Health Foundation, women who smoke are at risk of a heart attack 19 years earlier than those who don’t smoke. After age 55, women are at increased risk of hypertension, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Traditionally, men have been the primary focus for cardiovascular disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment. While disparities still exist, medical science is making gains in understanding the differences between men and women when it comes to cardiovascular disease.
Women must also be their own advocates and work to reduce these disparities by striving to minimize their risk factors and asking specific questions that can help them get the best possible treatment.
Unfortunately, many women notice warning signs of a heart attack but choose to ignore them. According to recent studies, women often hesitate to call for help because they are uncertain, think they can treat the problem themselves, or are simply too busy with family demands.
Many women who serve as primary caretakers insist that a child, spouse, partner or parent get help, but fail to attend to or adequately care for their own needs.
Many warning signs are not unique to women, such as chest pain or discomfort. Many heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or stabbing pain.
Often heart attack victims will feel pain radiating to the neck, shoulder, back, arm or jaw. They may experience a pounding heart, or a change in the rhythm of their heartbeat. They can have difficulty breathing. They could have heartburn, nausea, or vomiting. They cold experience sweats or clammy skin. They might even just be dizzy.
It is important to remember that heart attacks are not always preceded by chest pain.
There are some warning signs of heart attack that are particularly common among women. Those include a sudden onset of weakness, a shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, indigestion, fatigue, body aches or an overall feeling of illness. Some or all of these may occur without chest pain.
It is also common for women to sense an unusual feeling or mild discomfort in the back, chest, arm, neck or jaw — again, not necessarily with chest pain.
Sleep disturbance or anxiety are also common heart attack symptoms among women.
The “typical” female heart attack patient may be 10 to 15 years older than the “typical” male heart attack patient. But because women heart attack patients are often older, they may have more co-existing health problems that could cause them to miss, or misunderstand, their symptoms.
As with any and all health concerns, when you have questions you need to seek out your doctor for the best advice on your particular medical condition.