Edited by: Lucie Wong, BS, RN, Cardiac Rehab Nurse, and Anne Grimes, MN, RN, Wellness Manager
February is “Go Red for Women” month, a campaign put on by the American Heart Association to raise awareness of female risk for heart disease. The female body reacts differently to stress on the heart, and it is important to know the special signs and symptoms women exhibit. Join in this month by wearing red, learning your risk level, and talking to your mom, sister and female friends about this disease.
Why is it important for women to know about heart disease?
Heart disease is the number one cause of death among women. Deaths from heart disease surpass all other causes, including cancer! The majority of these deaths could be prevented with attention to diet, exercise, and lifestyle factors. The signs and symptoms differ from male heart disease, and some women may not be aware they are at risk.
What are female heart attack signs and symptoms?
The Mayo Clinic notes that pain and discomfort in the chest is a general symptom for women, although it is not always the main or foremost symptom. Women are likely to experience the following during a heart attack*:
– Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
– Shortness of breath
– Nausea or vomiting
– Lightheadedness or dizziness
– Unusual fatigue
Are the risk factors the same for men and women?
The risk factors for heart disease are similar for men and women but women have a few that are more prominent. The American Heart Association labels a person as at risk if they display one or more of the following**:
– Cigarette smoking
– High blood pressure
– High cholesterol and triglycerides
– Poor diet
– Sedentary lifestyle
– Heart or other vascular disease
– Metabolic syndrome
One reason that women are more susceptible to heart disease is that they tend to be caregivers and are less likely to make time to care for themselves, including finding time to exercise, which can cause stress. Other reasons include smoking, hormone level changes during menopause, and metabolic syndrome.
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome occurs when a combination of three or more of the following factors are present. People with metabolic syndrome are at higher risk for developing heart disease in addition to diabetes**. These factors include:
1. Waist greater than 35 inches (for women)
2. Triglycerides greater than 150mg/dL
3. HDL (good cholesterol) less than 50 mg/dL (for women)
4. Blood pressure higher than 130/85 mm Hg
5. Fasting blood sugar higher than 100 mg/dL
What can I do?
Know your risk! Log onto the American Heart Association website and do a self assessment of risk. https://www.goredforwomen.org/hcu/index.aspx
Educate yourself! The Valley Medical Center heath library has more information on heart disease. You can find a link to our health library on our website homepage.
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Have a healthy heart month! Your heart matters, so make sure you learn your risks and take steps to stay healthy.
*Source: Mayo Clinic Heart Disease in Women http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/HB00040
**Source: American Heart Association, www.GoRedForWomen.org