Due to the regular hustle of our routine lives, heart health is often ignored and not thought about until there is a problem (hey - we wouldn’t need an entire month making heart awareness a priority if awareness wasn’t an issue!!). The health of the heart should certainly be a priority (that’s understating it just a tad) particularly among women who have a plethora of pressures to deal with, including the simultaneous workload of their studies, career and families. Thankfully, it’s never too late to start focusing on self care habits and commit to taking good care of your heart health, regardless of your age and your potential conditions.
How Common is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is much too common, especially amongst women. In fact, heart disease accounts for 1 in every 5 deaths in women. Heart disease is the leading cause of deaths in women each year, and only 56% of women are even aware of this stat. Around 1 in every 16 women above the age of 20 develop coronary heart disease. Lastly, a larger percentage of women die after having one heart attack than men.
These numbers are simply astounding, and they should be much lower! There is an abundance of information out there educating women on heart health, and there are so many things women can implement into their daily and weekly routines that would further minimize their risk of getting heart disease.
Now, before we dive into the self care tips about the heart, it is important to discuss the types of heart diseases women develop and the symptoms for awareness.
What Types of Heart Disease are Commonly Found in Women?
There are several different types of heart disease commonly found in women. Women might develop atherosclerosis due to fat deposits and high levels of cholesterol. They also tend to develop heart rhythm disorders like atrial fibrillations. Some might develop high blood pressure due to high arterial pressure. As women advance in age, coronary artery disease becomes more common. Heart infections can occur when bacteria, viruses, or even parasites flow into and impact the heart. Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart’s muscles grow weak or even begin to harden. Severe issues might give rise to strokes, hemorrhages or heart attacks in women. Diabetes is also a serious risk factor for developing heart disease in women.
What are Common Symptoms of Heart Disease?
If we listen to our bodies, we’ll discover they are pretty good at indicating health problems, whether serious or not. Heart disease is no different, and there are several different symptoms we need to pay attention to when it comes to seeking help from a likely heart related issue. The most obvious symptom we think about when it comes to heart disease is chest pain, but that is not always a present indicator. Sometimes, pain in parts of the upper body also indicates poor heart health. These can include pain in the upper back, neck, shoulder, jaws, pain in the arms or even upper abdominal discomfort. If all of these occur frequently in more than two of these spots, then your body is giving you a warning sign for heart disease or even a heart attack and you should seek medical attention immediately
Unexplained weaknesses, accompanied with shortness of breath, excessive sweating and dizziness/lightheadedness, is also a likely indication of underlying heart problems. If you go through these phases more than usual and think it is just regular fatigue due to work and stress, try adding more water and foods with nutrients that help elevate energy levels and alleviate stress. If hydration and nutrition doesn’t help, then you should get checked for heart problems.
A symptom many don’t consider when thinking about heart disease includes problems with your stomach. Symptoms like indigestion accompanied with nausea and vomiting sometimes indicate a heart disease. If it occurs without much cause to it and happens frequently, then the odds of heart disease are considerable enough for you to seek help.
Other symptoms of heart disease include, but are not limited to:
- Swelling in the legs or abdomen
- Swelling in the hands or feet
- Irregular heartbeats
- Dry or persistent cough
- Skin rashes
Your heart is nothing to ignore or ever gamble on! If you experience these symptoms, especially those related to the heart or around the heart, then it is important to seek immediate medical help.
What are Some Risk Factors of Heart Disease?
There are several different risk factors associated with heart disease in women.
Stress, anxiety and depression - Studies show that women are more susceptible to developing heart problems due to excessive stress or anxiety than men. Depression can also lead to heart disease as there is more of a lack of awareness of, inability, and/or desire to maintain health.
Heart Defects - A congenital heart defect is another risk factor of heart disease in women. In addition, heart defects can develop in adults, as the heart structure can change.
Family History - Unfortunately, some of you are at risk because it ‘runs in the family’, especially if a parent developed it before the age of 55.
Diabetes - Having uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease, and it is associated with other risk factors like high blood pressure and obesity.
Substance Abuse - Drug and alcohol abuse can significantly increase the deterioration of the heart and lead to heart disease.
Menopause - If you’re going through menopause, you’re likely to go through some symptoms due to significant hormonal changes, like a decrease in the levels of estrogen. Estrogen helps protect against heart disease in the smaller blood vessels, and levels that are decreasing ultimately puts you at risk for heart disease.
In addition to these, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, and physical inactivity can also put people at risk for heart disease.
What are Some Tips to Help Prevent Heart Disease?
Whew! We’ve finally got through the doom and gloom portion of the discussion about heart disease. What exactly, then, can we do to enhance our ability to lower our risk of heart disease? Well, here are a few lifestyle changes you can make that will likely decrease your odds.
Maintain a healthy weight. Controlling your weight can be the first step towards countering heart disease, as excess weight puts a strain on many of your body’s systems and organs, including your heart. Avoid consuming added sugars, saturated fats and diets that are high in salt. Stay away from as many processed foods as possible as well. Limit your alcohol intake, as alcohol affects your overall immunity and increases your risk for several health conditions. Attempt to control your stress levels. Stress is known to tighten your blood vessels which can block blood flow and pose a risk for coronary microvascular disease. Regular physical exercise also helps with regulation of blood flow and thus helps maintain a healthy heart. Finally, make sure you get enough sleep every night as a lack of sleep impacts your body’s ability to heal and recover from the daily stresses of life.
As we like to say in the office, February wouldn’t be National Heart Month if we as women would take our hearts and our heart health more seriously. If you have questions about heart health or other heart issues, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians. We want to see the numbers related to women and heart disease come down significantly, and that decrease begins with a renewed commitment to our overall health.