Heart disease in women: risk factors and protective lifestyle

Knowing the symptoms and risks specific to women, along with eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising, can help protect you.

Heart disease may be considered by some to be more of a problem for men. Yet it is the very common cause of death, both in women and in men. Since some symptoms of heart disease in women may differ from those in men, women may not know what to look for.

Heart attack symptoms in women

The most common heart attack symptom in women is the same as in men: pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that comes and goes. But chest pain isn’t always severe or even the most noticeable symptom, especially in women. Women often describe heart attack pain as pressing or squeezing. And it’s possible to have a heart attack without chest pain.

Women are more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:

– Discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulders, upper back or upper stomach (abdomen)
– shortness of breath
– Pain in one or both arms
– nausea or vomiting
– sweat
– Dizziness or vertigo
– Unusual tiredness
– Heartburn (indigestion)

These symptoms may be vague and less noticeable than the intense chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This could be because women tend to have blockages not only in the major arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart (a condition called small vessel heart disease or coronary microvascular disease) . Compared to men, women tend to experience symptoms more often when at rest or even during sleep. Emotional stress may play a role in triggering heart attack symptoms in women. Because heart attack symptoms in women can be different from those in men, women may be diagnosed with heart disease less often than men. Women are more likely than men to have a heart attack without a severe blockage of an artery (non-obstructive coronary artery disease).

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Symptoms that should make you see a doctor

If you have symptoms of a heart attack or think you might be having one, call emergency services immediately. Do not drive to the emergency room unless you have no other option.

Risk factors for heart disease in women

Several traditional risk factors for coronary heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, affect women as well as men. But other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women.

Risk factors for heart disease in women include:

– Diabetes

Diabetic women are more likely to develop heart disease than diabetic men. Also, because diabetes can alter the way women experience pain, they are at an increased risk of having a silent, or symptomless, heart attack.

– Emotional stress and depression

Stress and depression affect women’s hearts more than men’s. Depression can make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatments for other health conditions.

– Smoking

Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.

– Inactivity

Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease.

– Menopause

Low estrogen levels after menopause increase the risk of developing diseases in small blood vessels.

– Pregnancy complications

High blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy can increase the long-term risk of high blood pressure and diabetes in the mother. These conditions also make women more susceptible to heart disease.

– Family history of early heart disease

This appears to be a greater risk factor in women than in men.

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– Inflammatory diseases

Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory diseases can increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.

Women of all ages need to take heart disease seriously. Women under 65, especially those with a family history of heart disease, should also pay close attention to risk factors for heart disease.

Lifestyle to adopt to maintain heart health

A healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Try these heart-healthy strategies:

– Stop smoking

If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Try to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke, which can also damage blood vessels.

– Adopt a healthy diet

Opt for whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans fats, added sugars and high amounts of salt.

– Exercise and maintain a healthy weight

If you are overweight, losing even a few pounds can reduce your risk of heart disease. Ask your healthcare professional what the ideal weight is for you.

– Manage your stress

Stress can cause the arteries to constrict, which can increase the risk of heart disease, especially microvascular coronary artery disease. Exercising more, practicing mindfulness, and connecting with others in support groups are all ways to tame stress.

– Avoid or limit alcohol

If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

– Follow your treatment plan

Take medications as prescribed, such as blood pressure medications, blood thinners, and aspirin.

– Manage your other health issues

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease.

Exercise and heart health

Regular activity helps keep the heart healthy. In general, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week. If that’s more than you can do, start slow and build up gradually. Even five minutes of exercise a day is beneficial to health.

For best health, aim for about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily, five days a week. Also, do strength training two or more days a week.
You can divide your training sessions into several 10-minute sessions per day. You will still get the same benefits for your heart health.
Interval training, which involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity, is another way to maintain a healthy weight, improve blood pressure, and maintain a healthy heart. For example, incorporate short jogs or brisk walks into your regular walks.

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You can also add exercise to your daily activities with these tips:

– Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
– Walk or take your bike to work or to run errands.
– Walk in place while watching television.

Treatment of heart disease in women

In general, the treatment of heart disease in women and in men is similar. It may include medication, angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery.

Here are some notable differences in the treatment of heart disease in men and women:

– Women are less likely than men to be treated with aspirin and statins to prevent future heart attacks. However, studies show that the benefits are similar in both groups.

– Women are less likely than men to have bypass surgery, possibly because women have less obstructive disease or smaller arteries with more diseased small vessels.

– Cardiac rehabilitation can improve health and facilitate recovery from heart disease. However, women are less likely to be referred for cardiac rehabilitation than men.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace medical advice. [HighProtein-Foods.com]

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