Women's Heart Health
Statesman Journal Living Well - Feburary 2016
Women are traditionally at the heart of the home, providing a good deal of the nurturing, care and logistical arrangements required to manage a family. The task of caring for ill or injured family members often falls to mom, auntie or grandma, as studies show women make a majority of the healthcare decision for her relatives. Unfortunately, many women also turn their focus away from their own health in order to care for others. Chronic conditions such as heart disease, which can be largely prevented with a healthy lifestyle, creep up when women are busy taking care of everyone else.
Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, women often dismiss the symptoms of angina or heart attack to more common conditions like acid reflux or the flu. Angina is the sensation of chest pain, pressure, or squeezing that can indicate obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries. It's often the first symptom of heart disease.
Subtle symptoms such as neck pain, shortness of breath; pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in legs or arms should be discussed with your doctor, especially if you have risk factors for heart disease.
- A parent with heart disease
- High fat, unbalanced diet
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Sedentary lifestyle
Because heart disease symptoms can go largely undetected, a person might not be diagnosed until they actually have a heart attack or stroke. In women, the symptoms of heart attack can be insidious and are rarely as dramatic as one sees in movies.
- Prolonged or returning pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat, nausea or lightheaded
Women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure, but with a mixture of the other symptoms, which is one reason ladies are likely to ignore the discomfort or dismiss it as something else. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1. The operator may tell you to chew one adult-strength aspirin to reduce the chance of blood clots. Chewing the aspirin gets it into your bloodstream more quickly than swallowing it whole - within 4 to 5 minutes. With a heart attack, even a suspected one, every minute counts.
The majority of women's health messages focus on annual well woman exams and breast health, but cardiovascular care should be right up there on the list. Talk to your doctor about your family history and risk factors, and discuss lifestyle changes you can make to improve your heart health. Not smoking, remaining active, eating well and reducing your stress can go a long way to keeping your ticker, ticking.