Heart health for women

According to the American Heart Association, “cardiovascular diseases kill 1 in 3 women, but up to 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented.” Because women sometimes experience milder symptoms of heart disease, it can be more difficult to recognize the warning signs. Be proactive in protecting your health – learn the signs and risk factors of heart disease and heart attacks in women.

Risk factors of heart disease in women

In order to prevent health complications caused by heart disease, it’s important to know your risk factors. Risk factors include:

  • Having a family history of heart disease, especially if family members have had heart attacks at age 50 or younger.
  • Smoking.
  • Being inactive.
  • Experiencing mental stress and depression, which can make it more difficult to live a healthy lifestyle.
  • Having high hemoglobin a1c levels if you have diabetes.

It's also important to know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Understanding this information helps you partner with your primary care provider as you both work towards maximizing your health.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack in women

The most easily recognizable symptom of a heart attack is crushing pain in either the center or left side of your chest. But some women may not experience chest pain at all - symptoms of a heart attack can vary between women. Some symptoms women may experience include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, back and/or abdominal pain.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Indigestion, which may feel slightly different than typical heart burn.

If you’re experiencing any symptoms that are outside of what is normal for your body, it’s important to pay attention. Quick action is crucial when it comes to treating a heart attack.

Make good decisions

You may think heart disease only affects men. This is not true. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, for example, in the United States. The Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has tips to help you make good decisions about your heart health.

  1. Eat a heart healthy diet.

The nutrition facts on the food label can help you make healthy food choices.

  • Choose foods that are ‘low salt’ or ‘low sodium.’
  • Limit foods that have ‘trans-fat.’ Too much trans-fat can cause heart attacks.
  • Cut back on sugar. Sugar is also labeled as ‘glucose’, ‘fructose’, ‘sucrose’, and ‘corn syrup.’
  • Get tips on how to use the nutrition facts label.
  1. Manage your health conditions.

Common health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.

  • Download a booklet to help you talk to your doctor about medicines for diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Take your medicines as directed. Do not stop taking your medicines until your healthcare provider says that it is OK.
    • Consider using less costly generics as safe and effective alternatives to your more costly brand-name medicines. Discuss with your healthcare provider if this is an option for you and get your questions answered.
  • If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar level.
  • Ask your healthcare provider how you should manage your health conditions during pregnancy.
  • Some women need a device to help their heart work. Talk to your healthcare provider about what device is best for your heart problem.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about getting your blood pressure and cholesterol tested.
  1. Get the facts about aspirin.

Daily use of aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke is not right for everyone.

  • Ask your healthcare provider if you should use aspirin.
  • If aspirin is right for you, find out:
    • how much you should take.
    • how often you should take it.
    • how long you should take aspirin. Some products combine aspirin with other ingredients and are not meant for long-term use.
  • Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements you take. Your risk of bleeding may be higher if you use aspirin while also taking certain medicines, vitamins, or herbs.
  • Get the facts on using aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke.
  1. Know the signs of a heart attack.

The signs of a heart attack can be different for women than they are for men.

  • Heavy ache in your chest or back between your shoulder blades
  • Sharp pain in your upper body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Unusual or unexplained tiredness
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Feeling sick to your stomach

While the most common symptom for both women and men is chest discomfort, you can have a heart attack without experiencing chest pain or pressure. Women are more likely to have other symptoms such as back pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, indigestion, and nausea or vomiting.