You spend all day every day in your body, so it can be easy to overlook the subtle signs of an approaching health issue. Heart health is one area of our personal wellness that is frequently neglected, despite the fact that it is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 250,000 women die of heart disease each year and the Centers for Disease Control estimate that one in five female deaths are because of heart disease. However, the symptoms of heart disease in women are often different than signs that men notice. Since many women worry much more about other threats to their health, it’s essential to learn the specific symptoms of heart disease.
What causes heart disease in women?
The risk of heart disease for women increases after menopause. One reason is that women’s bodies produce much less estrogen after menopause than they did in the earlier years of their life. Heart doctors believe that estrogen helps preserve basic levels of “good’’ cholesterol, which contributes to overall cardiovascular health.
Older women are also more likely to have diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure – a potentially lethal recipe. Smoking makes things worse.
What are the symptoms of heart disease in women?
Some women have no symptoms, while some might experience the symptoms that are commonly described by men. Symptoms can sometimes seem vague, and dissimilar to the crushing chest discomfort many often associate with heart attacks. You should see a doctor right away if you have these symptoms:
- Pain/discomfort in the neck, jaw or throat
- Pain/discomfort in the upper abdomen or back
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and/or dizziness
- Pain/discomfort in one or both arms
- Nausea and/or indigestion
- Angina (dull and heavy or even sharp/stabbing chest pain/discomfort)
Sometimes, women may have no symptoms until they experience an emergency health situation. You should seek emergency care by calling 9-1-1 if you have severe chest pain or discomfort, or other concerning symptoms such as upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, shortness of breath or swelling of ankles or feet.
Our team helps women of all ages stay healthy. Learn about the services we offer at Ochsner.
How can I lower my risk?
- Know your blood pressure numbers. Many people only get their blood pressure taken once or twice a year in a doctor’s office. At Ochsner, we have a great Hypertension Digital Medicine Program that allows you to take your own blood pressure readings from your own home and send them to specially trained pharmacists. These experts receive the blood pressure readings and use the measurements and other data to make treatment changes or medication adjustments as needed to ensure good blood pressure control. The digital medicine program allows you to take much more frequent readings in the comfort of your own home. Patients in the program also receive lifestyle education to help them lower their blood pressure.
- Stop smoking! This is one of the best things you can do for all aspects of your health and wellbeing. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. At Ochsner, we have partnered with the Smoking Cessation Trust to offer free counseling and medications for anyone wanting to make this healthy lifestyle change.
- Get tested for diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes greatly raises your heart disease risk. Ask your primary care provider if you should be tested for it.
- Eat healthy and limit alcohol consumption. There are more exciting heart-healthy products and recipes today than ever before, which makes it a lot easier to stick to a diet full of low-fat proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids. Alcohol consumption should be limited to no more than one drink per day.
- Learn to manage your stress levels. Stress is an inevitable part of life, but learning to control it can have a big impact on the strain we put on our hearts. Try one of these eight inexpensive ways to reduce stress the next time you feel emotionally or mentally overwhelmed.
- Exercise. A lack of exercise is strongly correlated to an array of heart disease conditions.