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Heart Disease in Women: Avoid this #1 Killer with Awareness and Lifestyle Changes

Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death in adults over 55? Even though it is more commonly associated with men, statistics show that more women than men actually die from heart disease each year—but why?

Heart disease affects men and women differently, especially when it comes to the signs and symptoms. It is extremely important for women to understand the symptoms and know what to look for in order to reduce their risk.

Although it usually affects women over 65 (and men over 55), younger women also need to be informed of the dangers of heart disease in order to prevent it.

“Although the mortality rate for coronary heart disease in the United States has declined steadily in the past four decades, the mortality rate for young women less than 55 years of age has not decreased at a similar rate,” says Dr. Leslie Poor, M.D., Co-Director of the Women’s Heart Initiative, Lankenau Heart Institute’s unique women’s heart program dedicated to empowering women to Learn, Act, Live. “Each year more than 30,000 young women under 55 are hospitalized with a heart attack.”

What Does a Heart Attack Feel Like for a Woman?

Although women usually do experience some type of chest pain or pressure—the most common symptom of a heart attack—it is not always the most noticeable or severe symptom, as it is in men.

The concern for women is that heart attack symptoms are commonly more subtle and harder to detect than the typical chest pain men experience.

The following symptoms are more common in women:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal pain
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Excessive fatigue

Because women are sometimes unaware they are experiencing a heart attack, they may delay seeking medical attention and, as a result, often don’t seek help until after heart damage has already occurred.

Triggers of Heart Disease in Women

Although we’re all familiar with the traditional risk factors for heart disease—high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity—women are actually affected by many other factors:

  • Diabetes
  • Stress, anxiety and depression
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Low estrogen levels after menopause
  • Pregnancy complications

Reducing the Risk: Living a Healthier Lifestyle

Dr. Poor emphasizes the importance of healthy living. “Young women need to understand that living a healthy lifestyle is the key to maintaining good cardiovascular health, especially when 73% of coronary heart disease cases were attributed to poor adherence to healthy lifestyle.”

She adds: “The recently published Nurses’ Health Study II demonstrated that young women 35-44 years of age who were able to maintain a healthy lifestyle—including not smoking, maintaining a normal weight, getting 2.5 hours of exercise per week and eating a healthy diet low in salt, saturated fat and cholesterol— were able to nearly eliminate their risk for coronary heart disease.”

Being a woman is not always easy. With work, family and other commitments, taking proper care of your health is not always priority. Yet, knowing the risk factors of heart disease and taking action to live a healthier lifestyle will help women live longer and more prosperous lives.

Lankenau Heart Institute is the region’s most comprehensive healthcare resource, with a team of more than seventy-five cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons who offer advanced services and expertise across a full continuum of cardiovascular care. Forming the core of the Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health System, are four of the area’s most respected acute care hospitals—Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital.

Find a doctor or schedule an appointment today at www.mainlinehealth.org/heart, or call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654).