Protecting a Woman’s Heart
Keeping Brooklyn Healthy

Protecting a Woman’s Heart

An estimated 42 million American women live with cardiovascular disease, but many are unaware of the danger they face. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the U.S., and though we tend to think of heart disease as a man’s illness, more women than men die from it each year.

Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks a coronary artery, a vessel that brings blood and oxygen to the heart. If the blood flow is blocked, the heart is starved of oxygen and heart cells die.

The most common symptom in women is pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it's not always severe or even the most prominent symptom. Women are more likely than men to have neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; sweating; lightheadedness or dizziness; and unusual fatigue.

Sometimes women have heart attacks and never know it. It's called a silent heart attack, when you either show no symptoms or ignore or misinterpret the symptoms until the pain goes away. Because people usually don’t seek treatment, twice as many individuals die from silent heart attacks as those who experience the typical variety.

All women face the threat of heart disease, at any age. But you can reduce your chances of developing heart disease by understanding your risk factors and making healthy lifestyle changes.

Risk factors.

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

For example, metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.

Mental stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms.

Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men. And, low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels around the heart.

Take an online menopause risk assessment

What can you do to reduce your risk of heart disease?

There are several lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease:

  • Exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days of the week
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit or don't start smoking
  • Eat a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt
  • Take prescribed medications appropriately, such as blood pressure medications, blood thinners and aspirin. Some women may also benefit from supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids
  • Manage other conditions that are risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes

A heart attack or acute myocardial infarction (MI) occurs when one of the arteries that supplies the heart muscle becomes blocked. Blockage may be caused by spasm of the artery or by atherosclerosis with acute clot formation. The blockage results in damaged tissue and a permanent loss of contraction of this portion of the heart muscle.

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