Women’s Heart Health - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Women’s Heart Health

There's a common misconception that heart disease is primarily a concern for men, when in fact, the American Heart Association sites heart disease as the leading cause of death in women. It kills more women than breast cancer.

Part of the reason heart disease is particularly threatening to women is that women’s symptoms are quite different from the more widely discussed symptoms men experience, and that creates a misunderstanding.

Most people believe the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain, but that’s not typical for women.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Heart Health in WomenWhen you think of a heart attack, you may imagine someone clutching his or her chest or shoulder in pain and collapsing. While these kinds of heart attack occur, most are not quite as dramatic. In fact, you may not even notice some heart attacks.

Women are more likely to experience nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, extreme fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, and pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen.

Many women report having vague or even “silent” symptoms like stomach pain, lightheadedness, fatigue, and a nervous, cold sweat. These symptoms may come and go, but you shouldn’t downplay or brush off your symptoms as something less serious.

Despite minimal or subtle symptoms, any type of heart attack is still problematic for your heart. It can damage and scar your heart and put you at a greater risk for another heart attack and other heart problems.

The best way to detect a heart attack is to become familiar with all of the signs and symptoms, including the subtle ones. Knowing your risk factor for a heart attack can also help you detect or even prevent a silent heart attack.

Risk Factors of Heart Disease

Knowing and being able to identify signals of heart disease is only part of what women need in their fight against it – they also need to know their risk factors. The big five heart disease risk factors for women are:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Smoking

The good news is that these risk factors can be mitigated or managed through healthy lifestyle changes - you can stop smoking, you can treat your blood pressure, you can treat your cholesterol, and diet and exercise to lose weight.

In order to avoid ever having a heart attack, it’s important to treat high blood pressure aggressively and get cholesterol numbers down into a healthy range – this can help prevent further development of cardiovascular disease or worsening of plaque in arteries.

Menopause and Heart Health

Women's risk of heart disease is lower before they go through menopause. The ovaries producing less estrogen cause menopause, and the symptoms and emotions that accompany it.

Estrogen has a positive effect on the inner layer of artery walls, helping keep blood vessels flexible. When blood vessels are flexible, they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow.

Once a woman goes through menopause, they lose the protection of estrogen and their risk of heart disease starts to rise. As a result, it's important for post-menopausal women to know their risk factors and make any necessary lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of heart disease.

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By the Numbers

  • Heart disease is the number one killer of women.
  • Each year, 435,000 women suffer a heart attack.
  • Over 6 million women in the United States are living with cardiovascular disease.
  • 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.