Heart disease is the number one killer of women age 35 and older….
More women actually die of heart attack (or AMI, Acute Myocardial Infarction) than breast cancer alone. Several factors that increase the risk have been identified. The more risk factors a woman has, the greater her risk of having a heart attack. While some of the risk factors cannot be controlled (such as increasing age, family health history, race and sex), you can modify, treat or control most factors to lower your risk.
The risk factors in women…
High blood pressure – one of the most common risk factors for heart disease. When blood pressure goes up, the heart has to work harder than normal putting the heart and blood vessels under a strain. Also, the rise in pressure ‘roughs up; the walls of the coronary arteries, making a small piece of clot or blood debris likely to stick there and block the artery. High blood pressure is considered a silent killer, because most people have no symptoms.
High blood cholesterol – another major risk factor. Studies show that women’s cholesterol is higher than men’s from age 55 on. High levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol -the “bad” cholesterol- raise the risk of heart disease and heart attack. High levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol -the “good” cholesterol- lower the risk of heart disease. Research has shown that low levels of HDL cholesterol seem to be a stronger risk factor for women than for men. So, it’s more serious for women to have low HDL.
Elevated blood levels of homocystine (an amino acid protein in the blood) have been linked to increased risk of premature heart disease, even among people who have normal cholesterol levels. It’s the ‘new cholesterol’ and is also related to ageing, bowl cancer and Alzheimer’s. It is however easily treated with B vitamins!
Obesity – If you have too much body fat (especially if a lot of it is located in your waist area) you’re at higher risk for many health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.
Thyroid disorder – The thyroid, a small gland located in the neck, is responsible for our metabolic rate, burning up calories, and modulating many vital bodily functions. By producing just the right amount of thyroid hormone, it helps to regulate the body’s metabolism (specifically, how much oxygen and energy the body uses), as well as digestive function, muscle function, and the normal integrity of the skin. In fact, the thyroid has at least some effect on every organ in the body – including the heart. Any disorder of the thyroid -high or low- therefore increases the risk of having a heart attack.
Diabetes – Women of all ages with diabetes have an increased risk. High blood glucose levels over time can lead to increased deposits of fatty materials on the insides of the blood vessel walls, causing clots.
Family history – Both women and men are more likely to develop heart disease or stroke if their close blood relatives have had them.
These only represent some of the factors. If you think you are at risk, or if you have any symptoms which cause you concern, see your doctor without delay and ask for testing to rule out heart disease.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women:
Early Warning. It’s not just pain!
While the risks factors are the same for both men and women, heart attack symptoms in women frequently look different than heart attack symptoms in men.
Most people know -or think they know- what a heart attack looks like. The victim (usually a man) clutches his chest, grimaces, and collapses to the ground. Women are aware that chest pain is a symptom that should be checked out by a doctor.
What women don’t know, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), is that:
Nearly half of women experience no chest pain at all during a heart attack
Symptoms in women are much more subtle and may be mistaken for other conditions.
One way heart attacks differ between men and women is that women may start to show symptoms earlier. The NIH released a study showing that in the thirty days prior to a heart attack, women were likely to experience vague symptoms such as:
-shortness of breath,
-unusual tiredness or fatigue,
Most women discounted these symptoms, or attributed them to other benign medical problems such as anxiety, flu, or a normal aging process. They did not see a doctor. Only in retrospect did women realize that these symptoms were actually an early warning of the heart attack to come.
And even during a heart attack, up to 43% of women report no chest pain.
The symptoms women report include:
• Cold sweat or feeling clammy
• Sudden weakness, fatigue, or dizziness
• Racing heart or very fast pulse
• Stomach or abdominal pain
• Nausea and vomiting that does not respond to treatment
• Swelling of the feet, ankles, and lower legs
• Pain in the lower jaw
• Pain or discomfort in the back, usually along the bra line
Unfortunately, the survival statistics for women are not encouraging. They are less likely to survive the initial heart attack, less likely to get out of the hospital alive, and more likely to die within a year of their heart attack!!! This may be because women don’t recognize the heart attack symptoms and therefore put off seeking help until it is too late, or it may be because women have smaller hearts that are able to sustain less damage before failing completely.
Living a heart-smart lifestyle by maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking is the best way to avoid dealing with heart disease. However, women should also be aware of heart attack symptoms and should seek help immediately if these symptoms occur. Some women may be tempted to put off seeking medical attention for fear of being embarrassed if they’re wrong. However most doctors would rather rule out a hundred mistaken heart attacks than miss one real one!
Plan a visit to your practitioner to discuss your risk factors or worrying symptoms. If you think you are at risk, or if you have any symptoms which cause you concern, see your doctor without delay. Call Holistic Central to book your next appointment with Dr Susan Jamieson: 2523-8044