Only 54% of U.S. women know heart disease is the leading killer of women in our country, causing one of every four female deaths. Here in Maine, stroke occurs more often than in any other New England state. “Women should stay vigilant for new or different symptoms – including those that seem minor or vague,” says David Ghiorse, a physician assistant in Martin’s Point Health Care’s cardiology department. Learn the facts and share them with the women in your life.
KNOW THE CAUSES, LOWER YOUR RISK
Tackling heart disease calls for a one-two punch. First, learn the factors that increase your risk. Then work with your health care providers on steps to rein it in.
Don’t smoke. When it comes to heart disease, smoking is even more deadly for women than it is for men. If you smoke, quit. If you don’t, don’t start. Need help getting smoke-free? Start here.
Know your blood pressure readings. New national guidelines mean that nearly twice as many women from age 20 to 44 now have high blood pressure. If you’re not sure what your numbers are or what steps you should be taking, talk with your provider.
Keep a healthy weight and stay active. Carrying excess weight stresses your whole body – including your heart. Staying active controls your weight and keeps heart strong. Find one (or several) types of exercise you enjoy, and aim for 30-45 minutes of continuous exercise, three to five times of week. “Make your goal at least 150 minutes total every week” says Ghiorse. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, decrease fat and salt, and cap alcohol at one drink per day.
Keep diabetes on your radar. Like smoking, diabetes puts women at higher risk for high blood pressure than it does men. Ask your provider if you should be tested. If you’re positive, be a stickler about management.
Find healthy ways to handle stress and depression. Research shows this is especially important for women. Yoga, meditation, walking and staying social are all effective strategies; your provider can share advice, too.
Don’t think you’re too young. Heart disease is not just for seniors. All women should be on watch, particularly if heart disease is common in your family.
Additional risk factors for heart disease for women include:
- Too much alcohol.
- Menopausal hormone therapy/menopause.
- Certain birth control methods.
- Sleep apnea.
- High blood pressure and/or diabetes during pregnancy.
KNOW WHEN TO ACT – AND DON’T DELAY
A heart attack can be the first sign that a woman has heart disease. And women are notorious for brushing aside symptoms and until harm is already done. That’s why it’s so important to know and heed these warnings:
- Chest pain. Most women experience pain, pressure or tightness in the chest. It could be severe. It could be mild. It might not show up at all.
- Pain or uncomfortable sensations in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdomen.
- Difficulty breathing normally.
- Pain in one or both arms.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness.
- Unexpected weakness or fatigue.
“Even healthy women develop cardiovascular disease,” emphasizes Ghiorse, so trust your intuition and don’t ignore these signs. Call 911 for emergency medical help if you’re experiencing these symptoms, and don’t try to drive to a hospital unless it’s your only option.
TEAMING UP FOR HEALTHY HEARTS
Now that you know more about women’s heart health, help us spread the word. Share this story with your friends and family – they’ll thank you, from the bottom of their hearts.