Although heart disease is often thought of as a health problem for men, more women than men die of heart disease each year. An estimated 42 million American women live with cardiovascular disease, but many are unaware of the threat they face. One challenge is that heart disease symptoms in women can be different from symptoms in men. Fortunately, women can take steps to understand their unique symptoms of heart disease and begin to reduce their risk.
Heart disease includes a number of problems affecting the heart and its blood vessels. Types of heart disease include:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease and is the leading cause of heart attacks. CAD causes arteries to become hard and narrow, making it difficult for blood to get to the heart. CAD can lead to:
- Angina – A chest pain or discomfort that happens when the heart doesn’t get enough blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest, but sometimes the pain is in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. It can also feel like indigestion. Angina is not a heart attack, but having angina means you are more likely to have one.
- Heart Attack – Occurs when the artery is severely or completely blocked and the heart does not get the blood it needs for more than 20 minutes.
- Heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump blood through the body as well as it should. This means that other organs, which normally get blood from the heart, do not get enough blood.
- Heart arrhythmias are changes in the beat of the heart. Most people feel dizzy, faint, or out of breath, or have chest pains.
Although the traditional risk factors for heart disease – such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity – affect women and men equally, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. For example:
- Metabolic syndrome – a combination of fat around the abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides – has a greater impact on women.
- Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment.
- Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
- Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels.
Women can reduce their chances of heart disease by taking these actions:
- Know your blood pressure.
- Don’t smoke.
- Get tested for diabetes.
- Get your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress by talking to your friends, exercising, or writing in a journal.
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