What women should know about heart disease

How much do you know?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease and heart attacks are the leading cause of death for Americans. A timely diagnosis is important, but misdiagnosis can occur.

Even though advances have been made to help bring this fact to light, only around half of women in the US realise that this is their number one killer.

It accounted for around one in every five female deaths in the US in 2017. It is the leading cause of death for both African American and white women in the country.

The following are some of the important things every woman should know about heart disease.

What is heart disease?

This is actually a broad name for different conditions affecting the blood vessels and heart.

Specific conditions that fall into this category:

  • Coronary artery disease – blockages in the blood vessels around the heart.
  • Peripheral artery disease – blockages in the blood vessels in the arms or legs.
  • Problems with heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmia.
  • Problems with heart valves or muscles.
  • Congestive heart failure – a problem with the relaxation or pumping functions of your heart muscle.

The issues may be the result of abnormal formation in utero, which is before birth, or they may develop over time.

Around six percent of US women over the age of 20 have coronary artery disease, which is the most common heart disease type. As you age, the risk of heart disease goes up.

Risk factors

There are genetic and lifestyle factors that can increase the likelihood of developing heart disease. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Menopause
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
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Some of the conditions that heart disease put you at risk of developing include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Aneurysm

How to prevent heart disease

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease, sometimes significantly.

Preventative steps include:

  • Have your blood pressure regularly checked. If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to get it under control. Options for doing so include lifestyle changes as well as medication.
  • If you smoke, work with your doctor to quit.
  • Get your blood sugar tested if you have diabetes risk factors. If you have diabetes, it’s essential to keep your blood sugar under control.
  • Eat a healthy diet of primarily whole foods, including lean meat, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.

Signs and symptoms

Many women have no symptoms until they’re in an emergency situation, such as a heart attack. Some women do however have symptoms which can include:

  • Chest discomfort or pain which can feel dull or heavy, or sharp
  • Pain the neck, throat, or jaw
  • Upper back pain
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet
  • Weight gain
  • Sleep problems
  • Heart palpitations, meaning your heart feels like it’s beating very rapidly
  • Cough
  • Sweating
  • Wheezing
  • Indigestion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heartburn
  • Fainting
  • Anxiety

Should you see a doctor?

Whether you have risk factors for heart disease or not, it’s important to receive regular preventative care from your healthcare provider.

According to current medical guidelines, the earlier risk factors can be treated or prevented, the less likely you are to develop heart disease later in life.

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You can make an appointment just to go over your potential risks, and if you have any symptoms at all, you should talk to your doctor. Don’t dismiss possible warning signs.

If you see your doctor, they’ll go over your family’s medical and personal medical histories. They’ll talk to you about any symptoms as well as your lifestyle.

Doctors can use blood tests to start assessing your risk for heart disease. For example, a lipid profile may be used.

Your doctor might also do other blood tests to look at your inflammation levels, sodium, potassium levels, and blood cell counts. They may also look at kidney and thyroid function.

There are also heart-specific tests such as an EKG that measures electrical activity in the heart, and the echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart.

Be proactive as a woman when it comes to your heart, because it may save your life.