Women and Heart Attacks: The Symptoms Are Subtle
When you think of a disease that may result in death in women, one of these probably came to mind:
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- or cervical cancer.
However, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States. It is responsible for 1 in every 3 female deaths. The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to develop heart and vascular disease and to die from that disease.
Less Noticeable Symptoms
Heart disease – also known as “cardiovascular disease” – can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Men and women may experience these differently. The most well-known symptoms of a heart attack include:
- chest or arm pain
- shortness of breath
Women often have few, different, or no symptoms. Or they may experience vague symptoms such as:
- unusual tiredness
- trouble sleeping
- difficulty breathing
Women are less likely than men to survive a heart attack, perhaps because they:
- either have few or seemingly minor symptoms
- fail to recognize the seriousness of the symptoms
- delay seeking treatment.
When to Call 911
Do not ignore symptoms that you may think are not important if they feel unusual to you.
- Wait no more than 5 minutes to call 911 if you think you, or someone else, may be having a heart attack.
- Try to remain calm as you wait for help.
- Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
Treatment should start within one hour of the onset of symptoms for the best outcome.
Live a Heart Healthy Life
Women over age 55 and those with a close family member with heart disease are at the greatest risk. However, it is never too early to practice heart-healthy habits. A wide range of factors can contribute to the development of heart disease. Fortunately, many can be controlled or monitored. You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by taking these preventive steps:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Engage in regular physical activity.
- Do not smoke.
Get tested for diabetes.
- Women with diabetes may have heart disease even as early as 20 to 30 years of age.
- Control your cholesterol level, blood pressure, and diabetes, if you have it.
- Have your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked at least every 5 years.
- Have your blood pressure checked every 1 to 2 years beginning around age 20.
Birth Control and Heart Health
Taking birth control pills can increase the risk of heart disease among some women, particularly those with other risk factors such as:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol.
Check with your doctor to see if you personally might be at greater risk for a heart attack if you take birth control pills.
Aspirin and Heart Health
Aspirin may help prevent heart attacks and may be of particular help to women at high risk, such as those who have already had a heart attack. Aspirin can have side effects and also may not be compatible with many other medications. Only take a daily aspirin after consulting with your doctor to be sure it is safe for you.
For more information:
Go to the Heart Health health topic.