For women, heart disease is the top killer

Posted April 11, 2011, at 11:14 p.m.

Hearts. We hear about them all the time: heartbreak, heartburn, having heart-to-heart chats and getting to the heart of the matter. The heart has become the muscle of emotion.

But as heart-shaped symbols appear on everything from bumper stickers to T-shirts, how much thought is given to heart disease?

Did you know that heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women? Listen up, ladies — this is serious business. Knowing the risk factors and changing harmful behavior can help you stay heart-healthy.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself against heart disease.

Stop smoking. The reasons that smoking is dangerous are too numerous to mention. Just stop now. By quitting you will cut your risk for heart disease in half.

Control high blood pressure. The plaque buildup on the artery walls may be increased by the stress of high blood pressure.

Reduce high cholesterol. Buildup in the artery walls makes the heart work harder.

It is imperative to be physically active, to watch your weight and to reduce stress levels, which when high can raise adrenaline levels in the body, in turn raising the heart rate and blood pressure. This can cause arteries to tighten and narrow.

Many people are familiar with the signs of a heart attack in men, including pain down the arm and severe chest pain. It is important to note that a woman’s symptoms of a heart attack, however, are often less defined can be misdiagnosed.

In fact, these symptoms can be present for years but may accelerate a month or more before the heart attack itself. Some women may have heart disease without even realizing it. The risk increases with age, especially in post-menopausal women who no longer produce estrogen.

According to the WomenHeart website, www.womenheart.org, women having a heart attack may experience symptoms such as:

  1. Discomfort, tightness, uncomfortable pressure, fullness, or squeezing in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that comes and goes.
  2. Crushing chest pain.
  3. Pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw or arms.
  4. Dizziness or nausea.
  5. Cold sweats, heart flutters or paleness.
  6. Unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness — especially on exertion.
  7. Stomach or abdominal pain.
  8. Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Since some of these symptoms are vague, they may be dismissed, which could be life-threatening. According to WomenHeart, some survivors say their health care providers have attributed the cause of symptoms to other health problems, such as indigestion.

The bottom line is to not ignore signs of a heart attack, to listen to your body and seek medical attention immediately if you have symptoms, including insisting that an EKG test or an enzyme blood test is performed.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.  E-mail chtaylor@eaaa.org.

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