When it comes to heart disease, many people mistakenly believe that more men than women are affected. However, this condition is actually the most common cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Unfortunately, heart disease symptoms for women often look different than those that appear in men. This means women don’t always know what to look for, which can further increase their risk.
By learning the heart disease symptoms unique to women, a woman can begin to reduce her risk of developing this condition and improve her overall heart health. Here at MOGA, we are dedicated to caring for women throughout every stage of life and firmly believe that preventive care is the best care. With that in mind, keep reading below to learn more about what to look for when it comes to heart disease in women, and how you can reduce your risk of developing it!
Heart disease risk factors for women
There are several traditional risk factors for heart disease that affect both women and men, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. There are also additional factors that can play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women, such as:
Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes. Diabetes can also change the way you feel pain, so diabetic women may be at greater risk of having a silent heart attack without any noticeable symptoms.
Stress, anxiety, and depression
Stress, anxiety, and depression tend to have a more negative affect on women’s hearts when compared to men who suffer from the same conditions. Depression may also make it harder to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow the recommended treatment plan.
While smoking increases the chances for developing heart disease in both men and women, it is a greater risk factor for women.
A lack of physical activity can be a major risk factor for heart disease. Some studies have shown that in general, women are less physically active than men.
Menopause causes lowered levels of estrogen, which can significantly increase a woman’s risk of developing disease in the smaller blood vessels.
There are certain complications that can occur during pregnancy that can increase the mother’s long-term risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes. These conditions make a woman more likely to develop heart disease, as well.
A family history of early heart disease appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.
Certain inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.
Heart attack symptoms for women
The most common heart attack symptom tends to show up equally in women and men—chest pain, pressure, or discomfort that comes and goes or lasts more than a few minutes. However, these pains may not be severe, and many women describe them as “pressure” or “tightness” instead. Chest pain may not even be the most noticeable symptom, particularly in women. In fact, it’s entirely possible to have a heart attack without chest pain.
Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms that are unrelated to chest pain. These may include:
- neck, jaw, shoulder, or upper back pain
- abdominal discomfort
- shortness of breath
- pain in one or both arms
- nausea or vomiting
- extreme fatigue
These symptoms can be less noticeable than the crushing chest pain people often associate with heart attacks. One explanation for this could be that women tend to have blockages in both their main arteries and also in the smaller ones that supply blood to the heart. This is sometimes referred to as small vessel heart disease or coronary microvascular disease. Additionally, women are more likely than men to experience symptoms when they are resting or even when they’re asleep.
Because women’s symptoms can be so different from men’s, they’re diagnosed less often with heart disease. They also tend to show up in the emergency room later than men, sometimes after heart damage has already occurred.
Reducing the risk of heart disease in women
While you may think that heart disease is something only older women are at risk of developing, the truth is that women of all ages should take this condition seriously. If you’re a woman under 65, you should pay close attention to your heart disease risk factors, particularly if there is a family history. There are also a number of heart-healthy steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
Stop smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start! You should also try to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, which can damage the blood vessels.
Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise on a regular schedule is an important way to lower your risk of heart disease. Exercising for about 30 minutes most days can help you lose weight, improve your cholesterol, and even lower your blood pressure.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, losing even a few pounds can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Eat a healthy, varied diet. Aim for a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy products that are lower in fat, and lean meats. Do your best to avoid saturated or trans fats, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
Keep stress to a minimum. Prolonged stress can cause your arteries to tighten, which can increase your risk of heart disease, particularly coronary microvascular disease.
Limit your alcohol consumption. You should limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day. One drink equals approximately 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit like vodka or whiskey.
Manage any other health conditions. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease. Make sure to take any medications as prescribed, such as blood pressure pills, blood thinners, and aspirin.
Maintain total body health with care from MOGA
Our practice is dedicated solely to helping a woman maintain good health from puberty through menopause—and beyond. We believe that preventive care is the best care, and MOGA has more than 35 physicians and nurse practitioners to provide you with a wide variety of options throughout your life. To learn more about what we offer, click here to explore our website or give us a call.