Although heart disease is often associated more with men, it affects women almost as much. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, many women don’t recognize the early warning signs and symptoms of heart disease and suffer from major issues later on. Here are some facts about heart disease and what women should know.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a broad term used to describe conditions that affect the blood vessels and heart. This includes heart rhythm problems, heart valve problems, high blood pressure and conditions that may lead to a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. According to the CDC, about 1 in 16 women are living with cardiovascular disease.
Signs of Heart Disease in Women
It is common for women who have heart disease not to have any symptoms until they have a heart attack. That is why it is often called a “silent killer.” However, heart disease can cause symptoms that could be an indication there is something wrong. Early signs of heart disease in women may include:
Change in skin color
Coughing and wheezing
Swelling in the legs, ankles or feet
When women do suffer a heart attack, the symptoms are often different from men. Although chest pain is what many people think of first, women may also experience:
Shortness of breath
Pain in one or both arms
Discomfort in the neck, shoulder, upper back or jaw
Sudden nausea or vomiting
How Heart Disease Is Diagnosed
There are several tests that can be used to diagnose heart disease. Your doctor can perform an electrocardiogram, which tests the electrical function of the heart. They may also recommend an echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound of the heart that will assess the structure and function of the heart. Additionally, your doctor can perform a stress test.
Women should also see their doctors regularly and get the tests recommended for their age group. This will help catch any issues early, which may include subtle signs of heart disease. Also, discuss any concerns with your doctor and schedule additional appointments if you feel like something is not right.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease in Women
Anyone can develop heart disease. However, some people are at a much higher risk than others. The following conditions have been linked to heart disease:
Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body’s ability to produce or use insulin is impaired. Women are more likely to develop diabetes than men. Additionally, diabetes can change the way that you perceive pain. That is why women who have diabetes are more likely to have a silent heart attack, which is a heart attack without any symptoms.
Mental Health Problems
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is a strong link between mental health and heart health in women . If you suffer from depression or have chronic stress in your life, you are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Anxiety and depression can put a strain on the heart.
Smoking is a habit that does not have any benefits. Not only can it increase your risk of heart disease, but it has been linked to many other health problems, including lung disease. Smoking causes the blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for your body to get the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
Women who have a family history of heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. However, that does not mean that heart disease is unavoidable. If you take care of your overall health, then you can still reduce your risk of this condition.
High blood pressure and gestational diabetes are two of the most common pregnancy complications. These problems usually go away after the woman delivers the child. However, they can sometimes cause long-term complications. Women who suffer from gestational hypertension or diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease.
Researchers believe that estrogen can help protect a woman from heart disease. However, estrogen levels decline after menopause. That is why heart disease is more common in women who have gone through menopause.
How Women Can Prevent Heart Disease
According to the CDC, 80 percent of heart disease cases can be prevented . The best thing that you can do to prevent heart disease is to see your doctor regularly. You need to get an annual checkup. Your doctor will be able to assess your risk of heart disease and make the appropriate recommendations.
There are also lifestyle changes that you can make in order to protect yourself from heart disease, including:
Getting regular exercise
Lowering stress levels
Eating a balanced diet
In addition, women are encouraged to stay on top of their heart health through preventative screenings. A low-dose heart CT scan with calcium score can tell patients a lot about their heart health, including their risk level of suffering a heart attack. To learn more about heart scans offered at Preventative Diagnostic Center in Las Vegas, contact our team today.
Dr. John J. Pierce is the Medical Director at Preventative Diagnostic Center. He is Board-certified in Emergency Medicine as well as Board-certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He received his medical training from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, in Pomona California. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to his regular practice, Dr. Pierce serves as a Tactical Physician with the Las Vegas SWAT team.