Yep, It's February and we most associate this month and all the hearts we see with Valentine's Day. But February is also National Heart Health Month and and Friday was Wear Red Day to bring focus to heart health in women specifically. This is because, sadly, the vast majority of research and studies on heart disease, symptoms, prevention and treatment are for men.
While most heart disease and stroke deaths are preventable, cardiovascular diseases continue to be a woman’s greatest health threat and the #1 KILLER OF WOMEN, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year.
Our symptoms and needs for prevention, diagnosis and treatment are often overlooked. Women's symptoms are often different than men's and less represented in medicine. That said, as you all know, I am obsessed with research, knowledge and education but I am not a doctor. The information below is directly, in part or whole, sourced from 3 websites. I have listed them at the end. Check with your doctor/ Yes. Educate yourself? Yes. Question your doctor and then question them again? YES. I hope this following information helps you or someone you love be healthier for it. xoxo ~Fredricka
Here are 10 other facts you need to know about women and cardiovascular disease:
- Cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined and yet only 44% of women recognize that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat.
- Among females 20 years and older, nearly 45% are living with some form of cardiovascular disease and less than 50% of women entering pregnancy in the United States have good heart health.
- Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of new moms and accounts for over on-third of maternal deaths. Black women have some of the highest maternal mortality rates.
- Overall, 10% to 20% of women will have a health issue during pregnancy, and high blood pressure, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes during pregnancy greatly increase a women’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.
- Going through menopause does not cause cardiovascular disease, but the approach of menopause marks a point in midlife when women's cardiovascular risk factors can accelerate, making increased focus on health during this pivotal life stage is crucial.
- Most cardiac and stroke events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes, such as moving more, eating smart and managing blood pressure.
- 51.9% of high blood pressure deaths, otherwise known as hypertension or the “silent killer,” are in women, and out of all women, 57.6% of Black females have hypertension — more than any other race or ethnicity.
- While there are an estimated 4.1 million female stroke survivors living today, approximately 57.5% of total stroke deaths are in women.
- Women are often less likely to receive bystander CPR because rescuers often fear accusations of inappropriate touching, sexual assault or injuring the victim.
- Women continue to be underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, as well as in research. In fact, women occupy nearly half of all U.S. jobs (48%), but only 27% of jobs in STEM fields. Furthermore, only 38% of participants in clinical cardiovascular trials are women.
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Attack
If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.
But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
More symptoms may become apparent as heart disease progresses. Symptoms can differ depending on what specific type of heart disease you have.
The symptoms of heart disease in women are also different than in men, who are more likely to have chest pain.
Potential later symptoms of heart disease in women include:
- swelling in your legs, feet, or ankles
- weight gain
- problems sleeping
- your heart feeling like it’s beating very fast (
To diagnose heart disease, a doctor will first ask about your personal and family medical history. They’ll then ask about your symptoms, when they started, and how severe they are. They’ll also ask about your lifestyle, such as if you smoke or exercise.
Blood tests can help a doctor figure out your risk for heart disease. The most common is a lipid profile, which measures cholesterol and triglycerides.
Depending on your symptoms and history, your doctor may do other blood tests, including tests to check:
Other tests include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- to measure electrical activity in the heart. This helps a doctor look at issues with your heart rhythm, as well as evidence of heart attacks.
, which is an ultrasound of the heart and looks at your heart structure, function, and the performance of the heart valves.
- Stress test
- to see how well your heart performs under physical stress. During this test, you’ll exercise while wearing equipment to measure your heart’s electrical signals and your blood pressure. It can predict whether you have blockages that may be limiting blood flow to your heart when you exercise.
- Ultrasound of carotid arteries
- in your neck to look for stroke risk.
- Ankle brachial index, the ratio of the blood pressure in your legs to your arms.
- Coronary CTA, a specialized CT scan that looks at the blood vessels around the heart to see if there are blockages present.
A doctor might also suggest a continuous EKG or ambulatory arrhythmia monitor, where you wear a device that constantly records your heart’s electrical signals. Depending on your symptoms, you might wear this device for a few days or a few weeks.
If these tests are inconclusive, you may need more invasive tests to diagnose heart disease. These include:
, which shows if your arteries are blocked and how well your heart is working.
- Implantable loop recorder, which is an arrhythmia monitor implanted under the skin that helps determine the causes of arrhythmia (irregular heart beat).
Some types of heart disease are congenital, which means they’re a result of anatomical abnormalities in the way the heart was formed.
Genetic factors can also influence the chance of developing heart disease. Others can develop regardless of risk factors.
However, there are many other conditions and lifestyle factors that can put you at a higher risk of developing heart disease. These include:
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- chronic stress
- family history of heart disease
- inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- menopause or premature menopause
- not exercising
- having high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy
- having overweight or obesity
There are also a number or conditions and issues for which having heart disease puts you at risk, including:
The risk factors for heart disease are complicated and include genetics, other biological factors, and general health and lifestyle factors.
While you may not be able to completely eliminate your risk for heart disease, you can take steps to reduce it. These include:
- Get your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, work with your doctor to lower it. This may include medication and lifestyle changes. If you smoke or vape, seek help to quit. This can be difficult, but a doctor can help create a smoking cessation plan that’s right for you. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attack symptoms in women. According to research published in The American Journal of Medicine, smoking has been associated with a 70 percent excess rate of death from coronary heart disease and an elevated risk of sudden death.
- If you have risk factors for diabetes, such as family history, get your blood sugar tested.
- If you do have diabetes, keep blood sugar under control.
- Maintain a weight that works for your body.
- Eat a healthy diet that’s high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean meats.
- Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day.
- Manage stress levels.Chronic stress will raise your cortisol levels and interfere with inflammatory responses in the body. Psychosocial stressors were found to be independent risk factors for the development of heart disease in women. Get a hobby. Laugh more. Do yoga. Go to the spa. Turn off the TV and electronics earlier and longer everyday. Meditate...
- Get your cholesterol checked and take steps to lower high cholesterol if you need to.
- Get enough sleep
Research suggests that the cardiovascular consequences of inadequate sleep are substantial and significant. Getting 7–9 hours of sleep every night is important in preventing and improving heart disease symptoms. If you have sleep apnea, or believe you do, seek treatment.
- Exercise regularly. A simple walk around the block every day can do wonders for your health.
- If you’ve had a heart attack, talk to your doctor about daily low-dose aspirin. This isn’t recommended for women who haven’t had a heart attack or stroke, as it can increase bleeding.
- Research shows that the typical Western diet leads to excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are associated with heart disease symptoms. It’s important to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and wild fish. Limit your consumption of processed foods, unhealthy fats, added sugars and excessive sodium. Eat a plant dominant diet. Reduce or eliminate processed, pre-package, convience and fast foods.
- Take heart-healthy supplements. In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, take heart-healthy supplements like omega-3 fish oil, curcumin and garlic, coenzyme Q10 and glucosamine.
- Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death globally and in America, for both men and women.
- The symptoms of heart disease vary, depending on the type of condition, and some women don’t experience any symptoms at all until they are faced with an emergency situation.
- To protect yourself from heart disease, including heart attack symptoms, change your diet and lifestyle. Focus on eating a healthy, well-balanced, exercise regularly, reduce stress, get enough sleep and don’t smoke.
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