Seeing Red: Get The Facts on Women and Heart Disease

Did you know each year, heart disease is responsible for 1 in 3 deaths among women? At this high rate, it’s the leading cause of death for females. Makes your heart skip a beat, doesn’t it?

go red for womenMany may think it’s a man’s health issue, but heart disease is actually the number one cause of death among women. As past research efforts were often focused on men, it’s no wonder the myth became so pervasive. Determined to dispel it forever, the American Heart Association (AHA) started the Go Red for Women campaign, which has raised life-saving awareness of women’s heart issues and funds for better care, intervention, and research since its inception in 2004.

According to the AHA’s Go Red website, “only 55 percent of women realize heart disease is their No. 1 killer and less than half know what are considered healthy levels for cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol.” Let’s change those numbers, starting now.

Assess Risks

A heart attack is never expected. But if you know your enemy better, you’re better equipped to fight back. As the sobering stats at the outset showed, women are at an increased risk of acquiring, and even dying from, heart disease. Hispanic women in particular are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanics, per the Go Red website. Also, if you’ve had a stroke or heart attack before, you should be especially wary of the possibility of a future heart problem.

Being predisposed on any of these beyond-your-control fronts (age, gender, family history, previous health history) does not mean you will have a heart attack. But armed with the knowledge of your increased risk, you can and should make heart-healthy lifestyle changes a priority.

Know where you stand: Take the risk factors quiz.

Prioritize Prevention

What risk factors within your control help prevent heart disease? The AHA offers this list: diabetes, obesity, lack of regular activity, high blood cholesterol, smoking, and high blood pressure.

Of course, old habits are hard to break. Quitting smoking, changing your diet, and boosting the amount of exercise and physical activity you get? They won’t happen overnight. Still, if you know ignoring these issues could lead to an early death or disease, you may find the motivation necessary to kickstart a healthier heart.

Most women are well aware of their weight, but in regard to heart problems, there are other important numbers to keep front of mind:

  • Body mass index (BMI) of less than or equal to 25kg/m2
  • Blood Pressure of less than 120/80 mm/Hg
  • Fasting blood sugar of less than or equal to 100mg/dL

Keep an eye on your cholesterol levels too, regularly discussing that number and those above with your doctor. Consistent communication with your care provider can be a lifeline, especially if a crisis hits.

Tell Everyone

We’ve seen our share of heart attacks in movies and on TV, but chest pain isn’t the only symptom (though it’s the most common one for both men and women). According to the AHA, women are slightly more likely to experience shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, and nausea or vomiting. Women often chalk up the symptoms to the flu and don’t call the doctor or 911 early enough.

Signs of a heart attack

  • chest discomfort, mostly in the center of the chest, that lasts for a few minutes—or goes away and comes back
  • upper body discomfort or even pain in one or both arms, the jaw, back, neck, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • breaking out in a cold sweat, lightheadedness, or nausea

Signs of a stroke

  • sudden onset of:
  • numbness/weakness on one side of the body, particularly in the face, arm, or leg
  • confusion or difficulty speaking/comprehending
  • trouble with/changes in vision
  • difficulty with walking, coordination, balance; dizziness
  • severe headache

Practice responsible heart health: Be aware of these warning signs, and share your prevention knowledge with everyone you know. Learn more here and encourage mom to get more active with these senior fitness tips.

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