What Women Need To Know About Heart Health

Heart disease is a female condition, too. Here's everything you should know about protecting your cardiovascular health.

January 21, 2016
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We associate certain health conditions with women. Breast cancer, chronic pain, and depression would all rank high on a list of prevalent female issues–but what about heart disease?

Most media sources tend to depict the classic heart attack victim as a man suddenly grabbing at his chest and collapsing to the floor. The heart-disease sufferer is also frequently male, usually overweight and underactive. However, women need to monitor their hearts as closely as the boys do. Let’s talk about why and how.

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in the U.S. each year.

While breast cancer might be the “woman’s disease” with the most buzz, heart disease kills more women each year by a long shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), upwards of 290,000 will die of heart disease annually. That’s 1 in 4 female deaths. In contrast, we see around 40,000 breast cancer-related deaths per year.

Heart attack symptoms frequently look different in women.

Not only do women need to watch out for heart attacks, but they also need to realize how they manifest. More women than men see non-hallmark signs of the condition, such as uncomfortable pressure or fullness in the middle of the chest; discomfort in arms, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen; difficulty breathing, sometimes even in the absence of chest pain; and nausea and vomiting. Some women mistake their heart attack symptoms for the flu.

Emotions and stress can put you at risk for heart issues.

Heart attack and heart disease aren’t the only heart risks for women. Another? A condition called broken-heart syndrome, which happens when severe emotions trigger heart muscle failure (and it’s more common in ladies). While often temporary, the pain and symptoms mimic a heart attack, but there’s no artery blockage. Researchers are starting to identify risks; those who experience an attack often have higher blood pressure and nervous system issues.

You can do a lot to actively help your heart stay healthy, but here are the three major elements to focus on:

Exercise. Studies show that regular exercise is important protective and preventive care for your heart–so make sure you’re doing 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. If you jog, walk, bike, swim, or play recreational sports, try to make sure you break a sweat at least five times a week for 30 minutes.

Stress. Since emotions can trigger heart issues, researchers think relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga may counter life stress and be beneficial for the heart.

Diet. The new dietary guidelines have just dropped, and the focus as always is to reduce the risk of obesity and resulting chronic conditions like heart disease. Sugar is the new food sin; make sure refined sugars make up no more than 10 percent of your calories. Reduce the amount of red meat in your diet (aim for more lean meat and fish), and cut back on saturated fats, which are frequently found in beef, dairy, and fried foods (limit to just 5-6 percent of your total daily calories).

Both men and women need to take active steps to improve heart health. Nobody is immune. Mindfulness about key facets of well-being is the most important preventive measure you can take: so easy to understand and so commonly discussed, but so frequently ignored. Take care of your heart. Not doing so is costly.

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