10 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Heart
We know that heart disease is the number 1 health risk for women, but how much do you really know about it?
1. The Same but different
Heart disease is the most common serious health issue among both men and women, but it doesn’t affect them the same way. Some heart conditions are more likely to happen in women, and symptoms of others can be different for the two genders. It’s important to know what to watch for and how to protect yourself as you get older.
2. Warning Signs
It’s a common belief that everyone has chest pain during a heart attack. In real life, women may have less obvious symptoms and are as likely to have shortness of breath as chest pain. You also might feel pain in your jaw, back, or upper belly. And women also may feel nauseous, lightheaded, or dizzy.
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is when one of your heart’s blood vessels tears. That can slow down or block your blood flow and lead to intense chest pain and other symptoms that can feel like a heart attack. This is a serious condition that needs to be treated quickly. Women are more likely than men to have SCAD, especially if they’ve given birth recently.
4. ‘Broken heart’ syndrome
The medical term for this is stress-induced cardiomyopathy, and it’s more likely to happen to women than men. It’s caused by a sudden release of stress hormones, and it happens after very emotional events like divorce or a death in your family. A part of your heart gets bigger and can’t pump blood as well. That can cause intense chest pain, but quick treatment can lead to a full recovery.
While they don’t cause heart disease, the natural changes that happen to your body during menopause can make you more likely to have it. Hormonal balance is essential as oestrogen can help maintain healthy arteries, but progesterone is needed to balance the effects of excess oestrogen and to support heart health.
Blood pressure, belly fat, and LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) can go up after menopause, too and can all be helped with good progesterone levels.
If you have a condition that causes this, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, your chances of heart disease are higher. That’s true even if you’re young, exercise, and don’t smoke.
Keep your inflammation in check with medications — but try to stay away from steroids, which can raise your odds of heart disease.
This mental health condition can double your chances of heart disease, and women are twice as likely to have it as men. It can make you less likely to stay active and take care of your health, and ongoing stress and anxiety can put a strain on your heart.
A combined cream such as 20-1 has been found helpful for depression by Jeffrey Dach, MD and progesterone alone such as in Serenity can help elevate mood.
This condition also can double a woman’s chances of heart disease. One reason is that high blood sugar slows down the flow of oxygen in your blood and can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries.
Another is that women with diabetes may be more likely to be obese and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. You can manage your weight and blood sugar levels with diet and exercise.
9. Thin Women Can Get Heart Disease
Women who are overweight, especially if they have belly fat, have a higher chance of getting heart disease. But being slender doesn’t mean you can’t get it.
Women who are slim can still have high cholesterol or high blood pressure and smoke — three things that raise your odds of the condition.
There are five key areas you can look into if you are not certain if you are at risk of heart disease:
i) Check your family tree
If your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65, or if your mother had a stroke at any age, you can be more likely to have heart disease. That doesn’t mean you’ll have a heart attack or stroke, but make sure your doctor knows your family history.
ii) Quit smoking
Women who smoke are 25% more likely to have heart attacks than men who do. It damages blood vessels, raises your blood pressure, and can lead to blood clots. Your chances are even higher if you take birth control pills and smoke, especially after 35.
iii) Watch cholesterol levels
This can build up in your arteries and lead to plaque that hardens over time and clogs your arteries. A quick blood test can tell you and your doctor your numbers. To lower your “bad cholesterol” (LDL), focus on simple changes. Keep an eye on the amount of fat and sugar in your diet and get more exercise.
iv) Stay a healthy weight
Eat more fresh, whole foods, especially ones that are low in calories, sodium, and trans fats. Check out heart-healthy cooking classes or online videos. Stay active by choosing things you really enjoy that will get you off the couch: walking the dog, gardening, walking, dancing or whatever else appeals to you.
v) Fitness matters more after 40
Even if you’ve never been keen on working out, take steps to boost your fitness as you hit 40. Women in middle age can cut their chances of some heart conditions with regular exercise. Small changes to your routine can make a big difference and new research indicates that it does not have to be for long periods, a brisk ten minute walk three times a day can be just as effective as a sweaty stint in the gym.
Knowing your risk, and reducing it, is the best thing you can do and for heart health good levels of progesterone are needed. It balances any excess from oestrogen dominance and has been shown to help reduce flushes and other menopausal symptoms.