Breast cancer receives a lot of attention in the world of women’s health, but heart disease kills more women than all types of cancer, according to the American Heart Association. Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms, risk factors and forms of prevention helps protect your heart and your health. Whether heart disease runs in your family or not, take an active role in maintaining your heart health.
Men are often associated with heart disease, but more women die from heart disease than men. While the risk of heart disease increases with age, younger women also need to be concerned about heart health. In women 45 to 64, heart disease is the number two-killer, according to the Mayo Clinic. It ranks as the third-largest cause of death in the 25 to 44 age range for women.
Chest pain or pressure often comes to mind as the primary symptom of a heart attack, but there are other symptoms you should also know. Women might experience different symptoms during a heart attack that you might not typically associate with heart problems. The list of potential symptoms includes extreme fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, a lightheaded or dizzy feeling, or an uncomfortable feeling in the shoulders, neck, abdomen or upper back.
Risk factors for heart problems include both things you can change and things out of your control. Your family history is a major factor that you can’t change. If a blood relative had heart disease, your risk increases. As you age, your risk also increases. In women, menopause means lower estrogen levels, which can also increase the risks. Previous problems, such as a heart attack or stroke, increases your chances of a recurrence. Factors that you can change include smoking, inactivity, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and being overweight. Stress is another factor, particularly for women.
Treatment for heart disease complications is similar for women and men, but there are some differences in the types of treatments and the way women respond to them. According to the Mayo Clinic, women might be better suited for drug therapy for plaque buildup in the arteries as opposed to stents or angioplasty. This is because of the differences in the way the plaque builds up. Some women also respond better to the drugs that break up clots.
You can’t control your heredity, but you can make positive lifestyle changes that reduce the risks of heart disease. Leading a generally healthy lifestyle is a big step toward keeping your heart healthy. Get plenty of exercise most days of the week along with a balanced diet low in fat and cholesterol. If you are overweight, take steps toward losing weight. Regular testing of cholesterol and blood pressure helps you keep these factors under control. Smokers should try to quit smoking as soon as possible. Finding healthy ways to handle your stress can also help protect your heart.