Published on February 16, 2021

woman making heart with hands

Women and Heart Health

February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on women’s heart health. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women, and symptoms can present themselves different for men than women.

Heart disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular system, which can result in numerous issues many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of our arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow completely and can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Amy Hernandez, certified registered nurse practitioner at the Center for Fitness and Health at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “Women need to be proactive in their heart health to be healthy long-term. Knowing steps to take could save their life,” Amy says. Amy shares helpful steps women should take to make sure they are taking care of their heart health:

Follow American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” Steps:

  • Stop smoking
  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar
  • Lose weight
  • Get moving with exercise
  • Eat right— focus on eating a healthy diet

“There are traditional and non-traditional risk factors that women should be aware of to stay healthy,” Amy says. Here are traditional risk factors and non-traditional risk factors women should look out for:

Traditional Risk Factors for Women

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Hypertension
  • Dyslipidemia
  • Stress and depression

Non-Traditional Risk Factors for Women

  • Preterm delivery
  • Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Breast cancer treatment

Because symptoms differ, women may not know the signs or symptoms of what a heart attack feels like. Amy offers guidance on what signs or symptoms women should look out for if they may be experiencing a heart attack:

  • 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 upper 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 vomiting, lightheadedness, fainting, inability to sleep, or unusual fatigue.

As with men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. “However, women are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain, so it is crucial for women to seek out help if they start to experience these signs or symptoms,” Amy says. This will help prevent any further heart damage and improve their overall well-being.”

If you or a loved one experience anything concerning or out of the ordinary, the best course of action is to reach out to your doctor or call 911 and get your loved one to the nearest hospital if their symptoms are severe.

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