Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women—it’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. Although heart disease is prevalent in women, it does not affect all women the same.
Age, gender and lifestyle factors all play a role in a woman’s risk of developing heart disease. Heart disease is particularly prevalent in African-American women—nearly 50 percent of African-American women over age 20 have heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Additionally, Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.
Preventing heart disease
Although there are some risk factors for heart disease that are out of your control, such as race and gender, there are many factors you can control. Making healthy lifestyle choices can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. Here are a few changes you should make to prevent heart disease:
- Don’t smoke
- Manage blood sugar
- Keep blood pressure under control
- Lower cholesterol
- Know your family history of heart disease
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a nutritious diet
According to the American Heart Association, 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. Despite the statistics, many women do not know that heart disease is the greatest threat to their health.
Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about heart disease in women is that the symptoms of heart disease often look different in women than in men.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when plaque builds up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. As the hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries, it can cause chest pain or discomfort—but not always. Some women who have CHD have no signs or symptoms, which may delay diagnosis.
If the plaque ruptures, it can lead to a potentially deadly heart attack.
Heart disease symptoms in women vs. men
Chest pain (angina) is a common symptom of coronary heart disease. Men often describe this pain as pressure or “squeezing” in the chest. While women may experience similar sensations, some women describe a sharp, burning chest pain. Women are also more likely than men to experience pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back due to angina.
In men, chest pain often worsens with physical activity and subsides with rest. In women, however, chest pain is more likely to continue even while they are resting or sleeping. Mental stress is also more likely to trigger angina in women than in men.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women; however, only about half of women experience chest pain during a heart attack. Other symptoms of heart attack in women include:
- Pressure, squeezing or pain in the chest lasting a more than a few minutes, or coming and going.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath.
- Cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Because a heart attack in women often comes with dizziness, nausea or fatigue, it is common for women to attribute their symptoms to a less serious condition such as acid reflux, the flu or aging.
It’s important for all women to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heart disease and heart attack—the consequences can be deadly. If you are experiencing any symptoms that might be a heart attack, don’t wait to call 911.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your heart health, consult a primary care provider at Goshen Health.