February – as American Heart Month – is the perfect time to talk about heart disease in women. Symptoms of a heart attack in women can be a little different than those in men. The most classic symptom is chest pain - in the front, radiating to either shoulder or down either arm, as well as pain in the neck or jaw or even between the shoulder blades in the back. Women do not always experience this typical pain. They may have indigestion, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness, shortness of breath with exertion or overwhelming fatigue. Women may think that they are rundown or have a touch of the flu. If they are experiencing these symptoms acutely, the best option to do is to call 911. Do not be embarrassed about being checked out! It is the safest option. If it is a heart attack, time is muscle. The sooner it is treated, the less damage done to the heart.
Women should know their own risk factors for heart disease and work with their healthcare provider to help reduce those that they can. Risk factors include: family history of heart disease or stroke (parents, siblings), high blood pressure (over 120/80 at rest), increased cholesterol levels, smoker, stress, obesity, inactivity (no regular aerobic exercise) and diabetes. Also as women age and become post-menopausal, their risk of heart disease rises. Women should talk to their providers about what they can do to minimize their risk for heart attack.
Women need to be proactive about their own health. These tips can help prevent heart disease.
- Stick to a heart healthy diet: low in fat, cholesterol and salt.
- Do some type of aerobic exercise 30 to 60 minutes, five to six days per week as part of your daily routine
- Have your cholesterol checked
- Have your blood pressure checked regularly
- Stress management
- Weight loss
- Good control of blood sugar if you have diabetes
Written by: Beth Pugh, RN in Cardiac Rehabilitation Services at Waupun Memorial Hospital