Surprising Heart Health Truths All Women Should Know
By Carine Basmadjian, MD, SCL Health Heart and Vascular Institute
When it comes to heart health, the reality for men and women really is different. During February, American Heart Health Month, I wanted to share some Heart Health Truths that can help women of all ages understand their risks and evaluate their own health.
Symptoms of heart disease present differently in women than in men. When most people are asked about symptoms of heart disease, the common response includes acute symptoms more likely found in men, such as chest tightness, and pain in the chest, arm or jaw. For most women, symptoms present differently and, unfortunately, may be mistaken for other issues. In women, they are more likely to appear as dizziness, feeling lightheaded or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue. Sixty-four percent of percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease had no previous symptoms.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. It causes more deaths than all cancers combined, accounting for about 1 in every 5 deaths.
Womens risk for heart disease increses after menopause. Risks for heart disease increase for both men and women as we age, but we do see an increase in symptoms in women during and after menopause, related to a decrease in estrogen.
Pregnancy can also increase risks for heart problems. With pregnancy, your blood volume increases to support the fetus. This increased blood volume can have an impact on your heart, especially if you have a pre-existing heart condition. If you are considering becoming pregnant or are pregnant, it is important to talk with your provider if you have any personal history or family history of heart issues.
Being fit doesn’t eliminate risk. Heart disease risks can impact all body types. Cholesterol, blood pressure, eating habits, smoking, family history and underlying heart conditions are important factors when understanding your risks.
I hope these heart health truths are helpful and empowering as you evaluate your own health and stage of life, but there is also much that you can do to help your heart stay healthy. In fact, 300 more women are living longer each day by making healthy choices and knowing the signs of heart disease.
First, and most importantly, is to contact your primary care provider and talk openly if you are noticing any changes in your health that may be related to your heart. Are you unable to do your normal activities without shortness of breath or excessive fatigue? Do you have any new shoulder, back or abdomen pain when you are exerting yourself? If you have a family history of early heart disease, share that information with your provider as well.
If you are diagnosed with a heart condition, there are many things your providers can do from medication and cardiac rehabilitation to more intensive interventions. The key is understanding your risks and knowing the signs of heart disease to identify problems early so they can be addressed.
Dr. Carine Basmadjian, MD, is a cardiologist at the SCL Health Heart and Vascular Institute and part of a team of specialists providing care to our communities in Eastern Montana. To learn more about our providers and the full range of heart and vascular services we offer, please visit svh.org/heart