Despite gender equality becoming part of many aspects of our lives, one area in which men and women differ is in the type and presentation of heart disease. Traditionally, men have shouldered the burden of disease, so women haven’t always sought the help they need. However, modern lifestyle factors are making heart disease increasingly prevalent among women, and it’s critical they become aware of the problem and know what their prevention and treatment options are.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman understand how heart disease differs between men and women, and they’re passionate about helping their female patients become aware of the problem and understand how they can actively work to prevent serious complications. To that end, they’ve compiled a list of “heart health hacks” women can implement to help themselves remain disease-free.
Looking at the numbers
Despite an increased awareness campaign over the last few decades, according to the CDC, only 56% of women recognize that heart disease is the leading cause of death among females, responsible for about 1 in every 5 female deaths.
Heart disease is also the leading cause of death for white and African American women in the United States, and about 1 in 16 women age 20 and older has some degree of coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease.
Heart attack symptoms
One reason women are more likely than men to die from a heart attack has to do with the difference in symptoms between the genders.
The most common heart attack symptom in both men and women is some type of chest pain, pressure, or discomfort that lasts more than just a few minutes. However, the “stereotypical” symptom of clutching the chest in pain then collapsing holds true only for men. In women, the pain isn’t always severe or the most prominent symptom. Women often describe their pain as more of a pressure or tightness, or they may have no chest pain at all.
In addition, women are more likely than men to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain, including:
- Discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdomen
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Stomach fullness
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
Not understanding the difference in symptoms means many women don’t realize they’re having a heart attack. And because women's heart attack symptoms differ from men’s, historically they’ve been diagnosed with heart disease less often than men, leading to an overall unawareness of the scope of the problem.
Heart health hacks to start today
There are a number of things you can do to be proactive against heart disease.
Know your numbers
Blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood sugar levels are all key indicators of heart health. Don’t just learn what your numbers are — learn what they mean. And if levels are in the “warning zone,” ask your doctor what you can do to manage them effectively.
Know your risk factors
Certain factors put you at risk for developing heart disease and having a heart attack. They include:
- Diabetes: changes the way you feel pain, increasing the risk of a “silent” heart attack
- Emotional stress and depression: affect women’s hearts more than men
- Smoking: a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men
- Menopause: low estrogen levels increase the risk of developing disease in smaller blood vessels
- Pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes
- Family history of early heart disease
- Inflammatory diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
Among women, 90% have one or more of these risk factors at some point in their lives, according to American Heart Association statistics. Yet, 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable.
Have a team
Your primary care physician is the doctor responsible for your annual physical and routine blood tests, and he or she is the one who refers you to a specialist, such as the doctors at Northwest Houston. Make sure that all of your doctors, primary and specialists, are in the loop about your overall care, so you can get informed and immediate help when you need it.
Get enough sleep
Research has shown that lack of sleep — less than 6-7 hours a night — is connected to heart disease. Poor sleep also has been linked to high blood pressure, difficulty losing excess weight, and making you less likely to exercise.
Want more tips? Want to learn more about your risk factors and how to prevent heart disease? Make your next stop Northwest Houston Heart Center for an evaluation with one of our cardiologists. Give us a call at any of our locations (Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas), or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.