Women's Heart Health | Women's Health | Mount Carmel Health

Women's Heart Health

There is a widespread misperception that heart disease is just a man's disease when, in fact, it's the leading cause of death in American women. It actually kills more women than cancer, accidents and diabetes combined. What's more, the symptoms of heart attack that women experience may be different than those experienced by men. Often times, these unique symptoms go unrecognized.

The good news is that heart disease is largely preventable. The best way to prevent heart disease is by knowing your risk factors and what you can do to control them. When a heart attack does occur, quick action is vital in limiting its effects. That's why it's also important to know the signs and symptoms.

Knowing And Reducing Your Risk

Risk factors are the personal habits and physical characteristics that contribute to your likelihood of developing the disease. You can begin to understand your risk factors by taking this free online risk assessment. Talk with your physician to fully understand your risk factors.

While some risk factors — like age, race, and family history — can't be changed, others can. The following lifestyle changes can have a big impact on the health of your heart.

Quit Smoking

Smokers are 2 to 6 times more likely than non-smokers to suffer a heart attack, and smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for women. If you smoke, quit.

Maintain a Healthful Weight

Excess weight makes your heart work harder. Losing those extra pounds will not only give your heart a break, but it can act as a natural remedy for other risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Be More Physically Active

Lack of physical activity not only contributes directly to heart disease, but also to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Drink Alcohol in Moderation

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Increasing your intake of alcohol contributes to high blood pressure and obesity, which in turn contribute to heart disease.

Reduce High Blood Pressure

More than half of all women over 55 have high blood pressure. Even though high blood pressure is not curable, it can be controlled with medication or by changing your personal habits.

Reduce High Cholesterol

Nearly one-fourth of American women have high blood cholesterol. With regular screenings, proper nutrition and the help of your doctor, you can keep yours at a safe level. Have a cholesterol screening during your next visit to your family physician.

Limit Stress

Studies show that stress is a significant risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. In fact, stress is considered as strong a risk factor as diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking.

Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms

While both men and women typically experience the well documented "chest pain," many women who are suffering a heart attack also experience other, less common symptoms.

You will likely experience one or more of these:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

There are other, less common symptoms to be aware of as well:

  • Unusual chest pain, stomach or abdominal pain.
  • Nausea or dizziness (without chest pain).
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing (without chest pain).
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue.
  • Palpitations, cold sweat or paleness.

If you think you're experiencing any of the heart attack signs and symptoms don't wait, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Heart and Vascular Services

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