Sometimes you just need a wake-up call. I got mine yesterday when a friend messaged me through Facebook that her boss dropped dead while working at her desk at work. My friend said the general speculation was that the woman, who served as superintendent of a charter school system and also served as the school principal, died of a heart attack.
I never met this lady, but her picture on the school system’s website indicates she was a middle-age woman. That means she was increasingly at risk of heart disease.
Heart disease, which is responsible for 33 percent of the deaths of women each year, is the top cause of death for women. The American Heart Association points out that heart disease kills one woman every minute. And while 35,000 women in the U.S. who are under the age of 50 suffer a heart attack each year, the risk increases as we age. In fact, there is a spike in heart attacks among women a decade after they go through menopause (which, on average, is around the age of 54).
The American Heart Association points out that while menopause doesn’t cause cardiovascular diseases, it is associated with several risk factors such as declining estrogen levels , increased blood pressure, declining “good” cholesterol levels and increasing “bad” cholesterol levels show up around the time of this transition. Furthermore, unhealthy habits such as a high-fat diet and smoking that were adopted earlier in life really start to take a toll on the body when we reach middle age.
However, only one in five American women comprehend that heart disease poses the great threat to their health. Still, 90 percent of women have at least one risk factor – if not more – that are necessary for developing heart disease. Those risk factors include unhealthy cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure, inactivity, a poor diet, and family history.
And women can miss the signs that they’re in trouble since the symptoms of heart disease differ for women and often are misunderstood. For instance, women can have a heart attack and not feel chest pressure. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue. “Even when the signs are subtle, the consequences can be deadly, especially if the victim doesn’t get help right away,” the American Heart Association stated.
Additionally, women can experience a silent heart attack, known as a silent ischemia (lack of oxygen) to the heart muscle. “Just like the name implies, a silent heart attack is a heart attack that has either no symptoms or minimal symptoms or unrecognized symptoms,” Dr. Deborah Ekery, a clinical cardiologist at Heart Hospital of Austin told the American Heart Association. “But it is like any other heart attack where blood flow to a section of the heart is temporarily blocked and can cause scarring and damage to the heart muscle.” She noted that women who have these types of heart attacks often have non-specific, subtle symptoms that they chalk up to indigestion, a case of the flu, discomfort in the jaw, upper back or arms, or a strained muscle in their chest or back.
So how can you protect yourself? Studies have underscored how important healthy choices are in protecting women’s hearts. These lifestyle choices include: not smoking; managing blood sugar, controlling blood pressure, lowering cholesterol; knowing family history; exercising and staying physically active; losing weight; and eating healthy.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
American Heart Association. (2012). Heart attack symptoms in women.
American Heart Association. (2013). Menopause and heart disease.
Silver, K. (nd). Silent heart attack: Symptoms, risk. American Heart Association.
Published On: December 10, 2013