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Heart Disease in Women: Do You Know the Signs?

Traditionally, heart disease has been considered a “man’s disease,” but the fact is, studies show heart disease in women develop at least as often as men, and each year, more women than men die of heart disease. Although researchers are not entirely sure why this disparity exists, most agree it’s due in part to a difference in the way men and women experience heart disease symptoms, including symptoms of heart attacks.

Even current medical treatments are more geared toward men’s symptoms, thanks to a prevalence of heart disease studies that looked primarily at men. Until more research is conducted concerning heart disease in women, one of the best ways for women to protect themselves is to understand their risks, how to lower them,  and recognize the way heart attack symptoms may occur in women.

Although women and men face many of the same risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, some factors affect women more seriously, including:

1) Smoking causes greater heart disease risk in women than men, although the reasons are unclear. The only way to address this risk factor: Stop smoking.

2) Diabetes is another cardiovascular disease risk factor which has a much greater effect in women; like smoking, the reason remains unclear, but reducing blood sugar levels and controlling existing diabetes are critical steps for reducing this particular risk factor.

3) Pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia can continue even after delivery, resulting in higher risks for cardiovascular disease. Getting regular care during pregnancy is important not just for the developing baby’s health, but for the long-term health of the mother as well.

4) Depression and anxiety have a far greater effect on women when it comes to influencing the development of heart disease. Chronic mood disorders can make it difficult to follow treatments and adopt lifestyle changes that can decrease other risk factors, so be sure to talk to your doctor about any symptoms of depression you may be experiencing.

5) Hormonal fluctuations that occur during and after menopause significantly increase a woman’s chances of developing disease of the small blood vessels, a condition called microvascular disease.

Women are also more prone to experience the damaging effects of metabolic syndrome, a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and increased belly fat.

Know the Signs of Heart attack:

Most of us think of heart attacks causing pressure and pain in the chest accompanied by radiating pain down the left arm. But those are typically men’s symptoms; women often experience heart attacks in a completely different way, including these symptoms:

  • Discomfort in the upper back, neck, jaw or shoulder, including feelings of tightness or increased pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the right arm
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme fatigue

Women are also much more likely to experience symptoms while they’re at rest or even while they’re sleeping, and stress is more likely to trigger an attack in women than in men.

Preventing Heart Disease:

Eating a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium is an important part of lowering your risk for heart disease, and so is getting regular aerobic exercise like walking. Most importantly, make sure you see your doctor regularly for health checkups that can help spot the signs of heart disease and make sure you’re doing all you can to stay healthy, for yourself and your family.

Breast self-exam (BSE), or regularly examining your breasts on your own, can help you detect a breast cancer early. Of course, the earlier a breast cancer is detected, the more likelihood for you to be treated successfully. Not every cancer can be exposed this way, but it is an essential step you can and must do for yourself.

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