Heart Disease in Women: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease is often misconceived as more prevalent among men, but it remains the leading cause of death for both genders in the United States. The risk and manifestation of heart disease in women can differ significantly from men, making it crucial for women to be aware of specific symptoms and risk factors that are particularly pertinent to them.

Unique Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack for both men and women, the way it presents can vary. Women are more likely to experience subtle symptoms that are not typically associated with heart attacks, such as:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Heartburn

These symptoms can be misleading and may not be as immediately recognizable as the more dramatic chest pain often depicted in media portrayals of heart attacks. This subtlety can lead to delays in seeking treatment and can differ in intensity, often occurring when a woman is resting or even during sleep. Emotional stress also plays a significant role in triggering these symptoms in women.

Risk Factors Specific to Women

Several risk factors for coronary artery disease are common to both genders, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity. However, certain factors are more significant in women:

  • Diabetes: Women with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart disease than men with the same condition.
  • Emotional stress and depression: These conditions impact women’s heart health more severely and can hinder maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Smoking: This is a more potent risk factor for heart disease in women.
  • Physical inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor, emphasizing the need for regular exercise.
  • Menopause: Lower levels of estrogen after menopause significantly increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Pregnancy complications: Conditions like hypertension or diabetes during pregnancy can elevate long-term risks for heart disease.
  • Family history and inflammatory diseases: A family history of early heart disease and inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus increase the risk more in women than in men.

Lifestyle Changes to Mitigate Risk

Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle is essential for preventing heart disease. Here are some strategies that women can implement:

  • Quit smoking: Avoiding tobacco and secondhand smoke is crucial.
  • Healthy eating: Incorporate whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins into your diet while avoiding trans fats, added sugars, and high salt levels.
  • Regular exercise: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days. Even short intervals of activity can contribute significant health benefits.
  • Stress management: Techniques such as mindfulness, exercise, and social support can mitigate stress.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Drink in moderation, if at all.
  • Follow medical advice: Adhere to treatment plans and medication regimens prescribed by health professionals to manage symptoms and conditions contributing to heart disease.

Seeking Medical Attention

It is crucial for women to seek immediate medical help if experiencing any symptoms of a heart attack. Early intervention can significantly improve outcomes. Women should also engage in regular health screenings to monitor cardiovascular health, especially if they have risk factors for heart disease.

Awareness and education on heart disease in women are vital. With the right knowledge and lifestyle adjustments, the risk of heart disease can be significantly reduced, and the quality of life improved. At Lyndhurst Gynecologic Associates we encourage open conversations about women’s heart health because we know it can lead to more personalized care, better disease management, and ultimately, a decrease in heart disease-induced mortality among women.

Further Reading:

Go Red for Women: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts