by Kim Hill, Economic Security Client Services Manager
Heart disease. These words may not seem as threatening as the word cancer. The truth is that heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women and kills approximately one woman every 80 seconds. Ninety percent of women in the U.S. have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease, and yet it is often overlooked as a major health threat.
Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and some genetic predispositions. However, other factors raise the risk of heart disease more significantly for women: diabetes, smoking, mental stress and depression, and a lack of physical activity. Low levels of estrogen, post-menopause, can pose a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease in smaller blood vessels. Metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high triglycerides (fats from the food we eat that are carried in the blood), also poses a greater risk to women than men.
According to the American Heart Association, heart attack symptoms are different for women compared to men. On TV, heart attack sufferers are often shown clutching their chest in sudden obvious pain and may describe numbness in their arm. For women, chest pain is the most common symptom but it may not even be the most prominent symptom. The Mayo Clinic explains that women are more likely to have unrelated symptoms, such as:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Right arm pain
- Shortness of breath, lightheadedness or dizziness, unusual fatigue
- Sweating, nausea or vomiting
These symptoms tend to be more subtle so they may be overlooked as a symptom to a bigger health issue. Symptoms occur more often when women are resting or asleep. Mental stress may also trigger symptoms.
While you may or may not be on the path to heart disease, there are preventative and proactive things you can do now to help promote a healthier heart. The first and probably the most effective way to better heart health is diet and exercise. Eat a diet that is low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, and try to get more fruits and vegetables on your plate every day. Exercise 30-60 minutes a day, 4-5 times per week. You can start out slow if you need to and work up to a good weekly exercise regimen. Even if you hate exercising, walking is a great way to trick yourself into getting your body moving on a regular basis.
If you are a smoker, try to quit. It’s easier said than done, but truly one of the best decisions you can make for your overall health. Don’t forget to see your doctor regularly for check-ups. Listen to your body. Try to stay tuned in to the little S.O.S. signals it may be sending you and don’t wait to see a doctor if you have concerns. Your heart health needs to be a priority.
Friday, February 5 is National Wear Red Day. It is a day to recognize and help educate others on heart disease and its impact. Use this day as a starting point on a path to a better, healthier lifestyle, and encourage your family and friends to do the same.