Heart attacks kill more women than all types of cancer combined. 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
Heart Attacks in Women
Heart disease risk factors for women
Certain traditional risk factors—high cholesterol*, high blood pressure, obesity, a family history of heart disease—affect men and women equally. Other factors can be a bigger risk for women. For example:
▪ Diabetes increases risk of heart disease significantly more in women than in men.
▪ Metabolic syndrome—a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high triglycerides—has a greater impact on women than on men.
▪ Mental stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s.
▪ Smoking is a greater factor for heart disease in women than in men.
▪ Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and as a group, women tend to be less active than men.
▪ Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels.
*Note: The science about cholesterol and the role of dietary cholesterol in heart disease is evolving and may no longer be as clear as it once appeared.
Non-typical heart attack symptoms and older women
The most common heart attack symptom is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest.
But older adults can also have more subtle, non-chest pain symptoms. Since the majority of older adults are women, this fact is especially relevant for women over 55. Doctors who are unaccustomed to treating older patients may misunderstand and therefore misdiagnose these less common symptoms, such as:
▪ Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
▪ Shortness of breath
▪ Right arm pain
▪ Nausea or vomiting
▪ Lightheadedness or dizziness
▪ Unusual fatigue
Note: Women’s symptoms often occur when they are resting, or even when they’re asleep. Mental stress may also trigger heart attack symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms or think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room unless you have no other option.
Reduce your risk of heart disease
▪ Don’t smoke
▪ Exercise 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week
▪ Maintain a healthy weight
▪ Eat a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt
▪ Take prescribed medications such as blood pressure meds and blood thinners
▪ Manage other risk factor conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression.
This article has been reviewed by Patricia Bloom MD and Harrison Bloom MD, authors of the recently published book: Get Up and Move Your A**! A Light-Hearted But Serious Guide to Successful Aging. For more information, go to www.doctorsbloom.com.———————————————————————————————————————