Cardiovascular diseases continue to be one of the major health threat among women which in 80% of cases, it can be prevented. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States around 289,758 women in 2013 died of heart disease, that’s 1 in every 4 female deaths. The American Heart Association’s initiative on ‘Go Red’ is focused on providing women’s heart health awareness and to serve as a catalyst to improve the lives of women internationally. This initiative is not just about wearing red, it is about sharing the heart health facts, standing together to making the commitment to take charge of not only their own heart health but also those they love. For interested in making a change, join National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and other organizations around the country by using the stickers, posters and social media resources to promote the awareness in the local community by clicking here.

Heart Disease and Gender Difference

Often women tend to associate heart symptoms with the less-life threatening conditions such as acid reflux or the flu. Although the heart of a man and a woman may look the same, there are great differences. For instance, the heart of a woman is smaller than a man’s and the wall dividing some of the interior chambers of the heart are thinner. Also, a woman’s heart pumps faster than a man’s but delivering about 10% less blood every time it pumps. This gender difference is important as it plays a role in the treatment and the outcomes of coronary artery disease. Also, certain types of diseases that only affect women increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease. This includes polycystic ovary disease, endometriosis, diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy. One of the interesting factors is that women are usually older when they have their first heart attack compared to much earlier in life among men. This can be attributed to the estrogen that offers some protection until after menopause when the estrogen level lowers.

The Coronary artery disease can also be difficult to diagnose among women as it often affects the small arteries which cannot be completely detected on an angiogram. Therefore, women who continue to experience symptoms after a ‘normal’ angiogram result should consult with a cardiologist who specializes in women with heart problems.

 Recognizing the Warning Signs of Heart Disease

It is important to recognize the warning signs of heart disease, to visit a doctor regularly to check the heart health and to learn the family history. In some cases, women may not have any symptoms and the heart disease could be silent and not diagnosed until they experience signs of heart attack, stroke or heart failure. Others may experience the symptoms during rest, with physical activity or could be triggered by mental stress.

“Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure,” said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., Medical Director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYC’s Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association volunteer.  “Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.”

Signs of a Heart Attack

  • Chest pain is the common symptom associated with the heart attack among men, although some women may also experience this, they are most likely to have subtler symptoms for weeks before the heart attack. Some of the red flags include;
  • Uncomfortable pressure, pain or fullness in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
  • Discomfort in either one or both the arms, the back, jaw and the stomach.
  • Shortness of breath or sweating without exertion and when accompanied with chest pain or fatigue.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling nauseated or lightheadedness.

 Signs of Stroke

Stroke is considered one of the leading cause of severe, long-disability, therefore it is not advisable to wait more than five minutes to call the ambulance when any single symptom of stoke can be experienced. However, not all women could experience all of the symptoms related to stroke, therefore it is important to take note of the time and to inform the physician when the symptoms started. According to the American Stroke Association, if affected individuals can take treatment within three hours of the initial symptoms, it can reduce the long-term disability from ischemic stroke. The signs of stroke are known as stroke F.A.S.T (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 911).

  • The signs of stroke can include sudden numbness of the face, arm, leg or a single side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Trouble communicating
  • Blurred vision in one or both the eyes
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache all of a sudden

 How to Prevent Heart Disease

Regularly taking the medications may seem to be enough to prevent a heart condition, but changing the regular lifestyle habits to a healthy one can reduce the risk of heart disease by about 80 percent. Caring for the health of the heart with regular physical activity and a healthy diet is essential to prevent heart disease. So here are few tips to help;

  • Walking for around 20 minutes a day can help prevent heart attack and stroke, so find ways to get that walk such as parking further away.
  • Maintain healthy food choices
  • Reduce cholesterol by adding food rich in fiber and with regular cholesterol checkups with the healthcare provider
  • Test for diabetes and keep it under control
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day and quit smoking
  • Don’t continue with a full bladder for a long time as the stress of it can contribute to an increase in blood pressure
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep and maintain a healthy weight
  • Lower your stress levels and apparently hugs can help lower blood pressure among some women