Heart disease isn't just a problem that affects men. If you're a woman, no matter what your age, you may be at risk for developing the disease. Learning about heart health and advocating for yourself if you have heart disease symptoms or risk factors will help you better protect your health.
How Heart Disease Affects Women
Heart disease is the leading killer of women of all ages and races in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the likelihood of developing the disease increases after menopause, younger women can also suffer from heart issues.
You may be diagnosed with heart disease if your heart doesn't pump blood efficiently, a valve inside the heart doesn't work correctly, your heart muscle is damaged, or your arteries are narrow or clogged. Heart conditions deprive your body of the oxygen and nutrients it needs. Heart disease can raise your risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, heart failure and peripheral artery disease. Symptoms of heart disease may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue or reduced stamina
- Chest pain
- Palpitations or rapid heartbeat
- Numbness or tingling in your arms or hands
- Pale or blue lips, hands, feet or nose
- Muscle cramps
- Foot, ankle or leg swelling
- Memory problems
- Varicose veins
- Abdominal pain or diarrhea
- Cold feet and hands
Signs of Heart Attack in Women
Women tend to experience different heart attack symptoms than men and don't necessarily experience the telltale sign of a heart attack like you see in the movies – crushing chest pain. If you're having a heart attack, you may or may not feel pain in the left side of your chest or your left arm. Women often report feeling dizzy, nauseated or tired when having a heart attack. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, indigestion, upper abdominal pain, fainting, or pain in your neck, jaw or upper back. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
What Women Can Do to Improve Heart Health
Know your risk factors. You may be more likely to develop heart disease if you smoke, are overweight or obese, don't exercise or eat a healthy diet, have a family history of heart disease, are post-menopausal, or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.
Make time for physicals. Annual exams and blood tests give your doctor valuable information about your heart and risk factors. Be sure to ask your doctor about your heart health and risk factors. If you're diagnosed with heart disease or have a condition that increases your heart disease risk, medication or lifestyle changes may help control your condition.
Take steps to improve your health. Exercising more, following a healthy diet, losing weight and quitting smoking are simple ways to protect your heart. Lowering your stress level with exercise, hobbies, meditation or yoga may also reduce your heart disease risk.
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Date Last Reviewed: December 17, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor