Women, take care of your hearts!

Women have tremendous power to prevent heart disease. By learning your own personal risk factors and by making healthy lifestyle changes such as improving your diet, or increasing your physical activity, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing heart-related problems. Even if you already have heart disease, you can take steps to lessen its severity. 

The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when plaque builds up on the inner walls of coronary arteries. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in the blood. When it builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis. The most common kind of heart attack happens when plaque ruptures and a blood clot partially or completely blocks blood flow through a coronary artery.

According to the American Heart Association, if you have any of the following signs, call 9-1-1 right away:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

“Heart attack symptoms in a woman can be different from a man,” says Dr. Karen Nelson, Cardiothoracic Surgeon with Med Center Health Heart, Lung & Vascular Surgeons. “Symptoms may seem like nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath or intense fatigue. If you think you are having a heart attack, do not delay — call 9-1-1 immediately.”

Lifestyle and heart disease

Coronary artery disease is usually preventable and can be slowed if you already have it. Smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet and being overweight are some of the leading causes of CAD. The best thing you can do is take care of yourself. Talk to your doctor about developing a lifestyle plan that includes the following key points:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Become physically active
  • Reduce stress
  • Know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and keep them under control

Heart disease through the stages of a woman’s life

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women and is the most preventable. Women of all ages need to be aware of heart disease and take steps to reduce their risk, especially if there is a history of heart disease in the family. The following are risk factors specific to women:

  • Preeclampsia, high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy
  • “Broken Heart Syndrome,” also known as takotsubo or stress cardiomyopathy
  • Menopause (discuss the risks of hormone therapy with your doctor if you have heart disease)

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S., and many women go undiagnosed until it is too late. No matter what your age, be sure to talk to your doctor about lowering your risk of heart disease. Your doctor is an important partner in helping you set and reach goals for heart health, so always be open and honest discussing symptoms and issues you may be facing.

Med Center Health offers the region’s most comprehensive heart care program from chronic heart disease management to open heart surgery and cardiopulmonary rehab. Our team cares for you when you need it most. Together.

To learn more, visit MedCenterHealth.org/heart.