It is important to catch the early signs of heart disease, however these signs are different in men and women. For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55, however some women have some form of heart disease at younger ages. Currently, cardiovascular disease (CVD) affects 90% of adults and is the leading cause of death in women. A recent study led by Dr. Cheng of Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston found that CVD affects more “women and blacks than men and whites”. Reasons for the glaring differences in diagnoses between gender and race are still unknown.
The most commonly recognized symptoms are chest pain, pressure or discomfort (angina). Unlike the sign we often see in movies - a man clutching his chest- CVD in women tends to be less obvious, hence it’s commonly called the ‘silent killer’. This pain arises when the heart is getting too little or no blood.
What is CVD?
The collective term is used to describe a number of problems affecting the heart and its blood vessels. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD) and is the leading cause of heart attacks. Among women, African Americans have higher instances of heart disease. It affects twice as many black women than white women. Some factors contributing this difference include higher rates of obesity or overweight, higher levels of elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. Limited awareness of the risk factors also add to this statistic.
There are a number of things that can help you reduce the risk of developing heart disease:
- Eat healthy
- Choose foods that are low salt or low sodium
- Limit foods that have ‘trans fats’ as too much of this can clog arteries and cause heart attacks
- Cut back on sugary products - they are also labeled as glucose, fructose, sucrose and corn syrup
- Reading the nutrition facts on the food label can help you make healthy choices
- Managing health conditions
- Take your medications as directed; only stop when you’re instructed by your doctor
- If you have diabetes, always check your blood sugar level
- Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly
- Ask your doctor how you can safely manage your condition when you’re pregnant
- As some women need a device to help their heart work, talk to your doctor about what device is better for your heart condition
Know The Signs
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Unusual upper body discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Unusual and unexplained tiredness
- Sudden dizziness or lightheadedness
- Nausea - feeling sick to the stomach
Unfortunately, recent research shows that women delay seeking medical help when they experience symptoms of heart disease. This is especially so when it comes to heart attacks. Recent research looking at more the 200 subjects found that women are one and a half times more likely to wait longer than men do to seek help. By this time, symptoms become severe and therefore deadlier. The American Heart Association recommends calling 911 immediately if you experience one or more of these heart attack symptoms. It may save your life.