Hold onto your hearts! This fact may make it skip a beat; most women who die suddenly of heart disease have had no previous symptoms. How is that possible? Heart disease can occur without any symptoms. Take high blood pressure for instance; it has no obvious symptoms.
Signs of heart disease in women
- Angina (dull, heavy to sharp chest pain or discomfort)
- Pain in the neck/jaw/throat
- Pain in the upper abdomen or back
- Chest pain (sharp, burning)
- Fluttery feeling in chest
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the legs, feet, ankles or abdomen
Why is heart disease in women often misdiagnosed?
Heart disease is the number one killer of women yet, physicians manage women patients differently than men. Women are less likely than men to be treated with heart disease therapies. Women test differently for heart disease as well. Some diagnostic tests long considered standard in cardiology give inconsistent results for some women. Over the past decade, new research is helping physicians become more aware of heart disease in women. However, as a woman, it is important to know the signs of heart disease and make changes to reduce your risk.
Heart attacks in women often missed
Women do not experience heart attacks the same way as men. The typical sharp chest pain of a heart attack is not always the symptom women experience. Some women experience an ache across the upper back and stomach, as well as a shortness of breath and extreme fatigue. These symptoms are less specific, making it harder to recognize them as danger signs. There are many stories of women having these atypical signs of a heart attack sitting in waiting rooms at the hospital, instead of being seen immediately. If in doubt, get checked out.
What are the symptoms of a heart attack in a woman?
Heart attack symptoms in women are often dismissed. When in doubt, check it out! Never delay getting help for these symptoms:
- Unusual fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Upper back pain
- Burning, aching or soreness
Risk factors for heart disease in women
You can make reduce your risk of heart disease! A whooping 80% of risk factors are within your control to change, such as smoking, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, using alcohol in excess and high cholesterol. Don’t forget about stress: women work a disproportionate number of unpaid hours. When did you last have time to focus on your own health? Other risk factors of heart disease in women include family history, obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, depression and high blood pressure.
Can menopause affect your heart?
Estrogen has a protective effect on the heart. Once you hit menopause and your estrogen levels drop, your heart health can deteriorate more quickly. Without estrogen you can experience sleep disturbances, higher blood pressure, higher blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as increased central body fat. These changes make you more prone to blood clots and blood sugar problems.
3 proven ways to prevent heart disease in women
Heart disease in women is preventable! You can lower your risk of heart disease by making healthier lifestyle changes and finding out what your body can’t tell you but your doctor can.
Here are 3 ways to prevent heart disease in women:
1. Find out what you don’t know.
You may not recognize the symptoms of poor heart health. Your physician can help you recognize the silent symptoms of heart disease, such as high cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure.
2. Be proactive!
Make changes to your lifestyle that reduce your risk of developing heart disease:
- Make sleep a priority.
- Don’t be inactive – get up and move every hour.
- Quit smoking.
- Limit your stress levels.
- Make healthier food choices.
- Limit your alcohol intake to one drink a day.
- Exercise for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity per week (in bouts of 10 minutes or more).
3. Work with knowledgeable professionals
You may need some help. Women are great at taking care of others. Your heart is in the right place! But, when was the last time you made your heart health a priority: put your feet up, got a good night’s sleep or ate healthy delicious food? Humans are creatures of habit. It can be hard to make changes to your lifestyle.
The Pritikin Center has been successfully helping guests with education and prevention of heart disease for decades. Many guests have been women. Meet Dr. Danine Fruge, the Director of Medicine at the Pritikin Center. Yes, a woman! And, as a mom of three, Dr. Fruge certainly knows how hard it can be to take time to care of your heart. “Our job is to show people you can live healthier in a very busy environment. We are a very passionate center, where we practice what we preach…I fell in love with the Pritikin Mission and I really enjoy seeing the difference it made in people’s lives.” Come learn healthy lifestyle strategies to prevent heart disease from the team of medical professionals during a stay at the luxurious Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami, Florida. Recognized world-wide as the longest-running, most scientifically proven lifestyle program for preventing and controlling heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
- Twenty year trends and sex differences in young adults hospitalized with acute myocardial infarction. Circulation 2018 Nov; 139:8.
- Cardiovascular Disease in Women: Clinical Perspectives. Circ Res 2016 Apr 15; 118(8):1273-1293.
- Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 23, 2017.
- Common myths about heart disease in women. American Heart Association, 2019.
- What every woman should know about heart disease. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2018.