Heart Attacks in Women: Perceptions & Misconceptions
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THINK ABOUT THE FOLLOWING NUMBERS: More than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease, and 6.6 million women in the U.S. currently live with coronary heart disease.
What is heart disease?
Heart attacks usually stem from heart disease, which refers to any problem that affects the heart’s ability to function normally. It could be an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or a heart defect you’ve had since birth.
“Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type,” says Shawn Sanders, MD, of Baptist Heart. “It restricts blood flow by obstructing the heart’s arteries with fatty deposits called plaque. If the artery becomes occluded, a heart attack may result.”
Long before having a heart attack, some people experience angina pectoris. Angina pectoris feels a little bit like indigestion— causing uncomfortable pressure or fullness in your chest. This pressure isn’t just chest pain, however; it’s a sign of coronary heart disease. Chest pain like this is a signal to see a health care provider for a heart evaluation.
Considering the normal causes of heart disease like smoking, poor diet and obesity, women specifically should pay special attention to their cholesterol levels. After menopause, your estrogen production declines, and often with it your HDL, or “good” cholesterol, while your LDL, or “bad,” levels increase.
How women experience a heart attack
Women may experience different heart attack symptoms than men. “While chest pain is the most common symptom, women are more likely to experience more subtle signs,” cautions Dr. Sanders. These include:
Because these symptoms seem innocent, women may discount them as signs of stress or another sickness. However, you should seek medical help immediately if these symptoms manifest.
Remember, you can avoid having a heart attack — even if your family has a history of them. Not smoking, getting plenty of exercise, eating a healthy diet full of fresh veggies and going to the doctor are great ways to help keep your heart safe. If you experience unusual symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea or back or jaw pain, call 911 and ask to be taken to Baptist Medical Center’s ER.
Watch our Ask The Expert episodes with WLBT on Heart Health here: