Cancer has been called the “most feared diagnosis.” However, many women don’t realize that heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in women in the United States. Heart disease was once called a “man’s disease,” but one in four female deaths in this country are from heart disease, making it an equal opportunity disease.
Even more concerning is that almost 64% of women who die suddenly of heart attack had no previous symptoms according to the Center for Disease Control, giving heart disease the name “the silent killer.” This means you could be at risk even though you show no symptoms.
What to Watch For
Women experience symptoms that are often very different from the symptoms common in men. Some women report dull chest pain or a sharp, burning sensation. Women experience pain in the neck, jaw, throat, or back much more frequently than men. However, many women don’t have any pain typically associated with heart attack, but may notice shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling of feet, ankles, or legs, confusion, dizziness, or numbness in face, arms, or legs. If you notice any of these conditions, don’t wait! Seek medical attention immediately. This could be the only warning sign you experience.
Risk Factors & What You Can Do Now
As women age, the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, angina, and arrhythmias goes up; however, women of all ages should be concerned and practice prevention now. While women may experience symptoms that are very different than in men, the risk factors are very much the same.
- High blood pressure. Check your blood pressure regularly and keep it controlled through diet and medication if necessary.
- High LDL cholesterol. Know your numbers and control bad cholesterol through diet and medication if necessary.
- Smoking. Stop smoking! This one lifestyle change will benefit your heart, lungs, circulatory system, and reduce risk of some cancers.
- Diabetes. Be tested for diabetes. Control your weight and follow a healthy diet.
- Obesity. Obesity is a contributing factor in a number of health issues and diseases and makes controlling blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol more difficult.
Physical inactivity. The more you move, the better you will feel. Exercise can help circulation, heart, lungs, and joints.
- Overuse of alcohol. Limit alcohol to one drink per day.
- Poor diet. A diet high in fats and sugars contributes to a wide range of physical conditions. Challenge yourself to make one dietary change per week. This might be to reduce the number of soft drinks you have in a week, to reduce the amount of sugar in your coffee, to add a fruit or vegetable to each meal, or reduce the amount of red meat you eat. Small changes add up!
- Sleep. Do you know that sleep is good for your heart? Poor sleep patterns have been linked to increased blood pressure and trouble losing weight. Try to get six to eight hours of sleep per night.
If you find that you have several of the above risk factors, take heart! There are many changes you can make right away that can begin to lower your risk of heart disease. See your doctor to access your risk and get started on any medications that may be necessary. Be intentional about the foods you put on your plate and get moving toward a heart-healthy lifestyle!