It’s a sobering statistic: Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in New Jersey and nationwide. And COVID-19, unfortunately, has increased the risk.
Data analyzed by Cedars-Sinai researchers revealed that heart attack deaths rose substantially during COVID surges.
But women and men can experience heart attacks differently, and that difference in symptoms may prevent some women from getting the heart care they need. As part of Heart Health Month, we’re telling you what you need to know.
1. What do heart attack symptoms look like for women?
Chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom in both women and men. But for some women, chest pain is not always severe or even the most noticeable symptom.
Instead of the chest-clutching pain commonly associated with heart attacks, some women describe their chest pain as a pressure or tightness. Only half of women who have heart attacks have chest pain.
There are some symptoms, though, that women are more likely to experience than men:
Unusual fatigue. It’s common for busy women to feel tired, but you need to watch out for fatigue that’s new or dramatic. For example, if you’re suddenly exhausted after a normal workout or feel really tired after simple activities, these could be signs of an impending heart attack.
Sweating or shortness of breath. Hot flashes are common for many women as they age, but sudden sweating without strenuous activity or shortness of breath that worsens when lying down are signs for concern.
Neck, jaw or back pain. When the heart has a problem, it can trigger pain elsewhere in the body. If you have pain in the jaw, back or neck that is not tied to a specific muscle ache or worsens during exercise then disappears, you should get it checked out.
Other symptoms for women can include indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting.
2. It is important to take symptoms seriously.
Doctors have reported that women’s heart problems often go unrecognized. They may think heart disease is typically a man’s problem, or they may put their families’ needs above their own and not seek care. Additionally, women may also attribute their symptoms to conditions like acid reflux or the flu.
Since women don’t always chalk up their symptoms to a potential heart attack, they could show up in the ER after their hearts have already been damaged. If you think you’re having a heart attack, call for emergency help immediately.
3. What are the heart disease risk factors for women?
Both women and men share key risk factors, including obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise. But these factors can make it more likely for women to get heart disease.
Diabetes. While diabetes is a strong risk factor for men and women, women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease earlier than their male counterparts.
Mental stress and depression. Women’s hearts are more affected by stress and depression than men’s hearts. In fact, research shows that middle-aged women who have clinical depression have twice the risk of developing heart disease. Learn how chronic stress can be particularly risky for African American women.
Smoking. According to the American Heart Association, women who smoke have a 25% higher risk of developing heart disease than male smokers.
Menopause. Women in menopause are at risk of developing disease in the smaller blood vessels around the heart.
Pregnancy complications.If women have high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy, they may have a longer-term risk of heart disease.
4. What should you do if you feel like you are having heart attack?
Follow these steps from the American Heart Association:
- Dial 911 immediately, follow the operator’s instructions and get to a hospital right away—but don’t drive yourself.
- Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.
What can women do to prevent heart disease?
Taking care of your heart means embracing a healthy lifestyle.
Quit smoking. One year of being smoke-free can cut your risk of heart disease dramatically. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start.
Set an exercise routine.Walking just 30 minutes a day can lower your risk of heart disease.
Maintain a healthy weight. Losing a few pounds if you’re overweight can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes.
Modify your diet. Eating healthy includes whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean meats.
Manage your stress. If you’re feeling stressed, you might feel your muscles tighten. The same thing happens to your arteries, which increases your risk of heart disease.
Limit alcohol.Don’t have more than one alcoholic drink a day.
You must log in to post a comment.