People commonly think only about how heart disease affects men. In actuality, heart disease affects women, too. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease and stroke cause one in three women’s deaths each year, while one in 30 women dies of breast cancer. This means that, every 80 seconds, a woman dies of cardiovascular disease or stroke.
The good news is, 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education.
Here are important tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for optimal heart health as a woman.
Know the risk factors that increase your chances of getting heart disease. Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke, according to the AHA. The common factors include:
- Diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol
- Excessive alcohol use
- Family history of heart disease
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Tobacco use
Ask your doctor questions to be fully educated on your chances of developing heart disease. The CDC provides this list of questions if you aren’t sure what to ask:
- What is my risk of heart disease?
- What is my blood pressure? What does it mean for me, and what do I need to do about it?
- What are my cholesterol numbers (including total cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, HDL or “good” cholesterol, and triglycerides)? What do they mean for me, and what do I need to do about them?
- What are my body mass index and waist measurement? Is my BMI in the normal range? Do I need to lose weight for my health?
- What is my blood sugar level? Am I at risk of diabetes?
- What other screening tests for heart disease do I need? How often should I return for checkups for my heart health?
- What can I do to quit smoking?
- How much physical activity do I need to help protect my heart?
- What is a heart-healthy eating plan for me? Should I see a registered dietitian or qualified nutritionist to learn more about healthy eating?
- How can I tell if I’m having a heart attack?
Lower your chance of heart disease through healthy habits and lifestyle choices. Eat healthy, stay active, be smoke-free, and limit alcohol.
Know the signs of a heart attack, and act immediately. The symptoms can be different in women vs. men, and they are often misunderstood—even by some physicians, which is a scary thought. A woman suffers a heart attack every 90 seconds in the United States, but if you seek help quickly, treatment can save your life and prevent permanent damage. The CDC says treatment works best if given within one hour of when symptoms begin. Common symptoms include:
- Unusually heavy pressure on the chest, as though there’s a ton of weight on you
- Sharp upper-body pain in the neck, back, and jaw
- Severe shortness of breath
- Cold sweats (not hot flashes from menopause)
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue (tiredness)
- Unfamiliar dizziness or lightheadedness
- Unexplained nausea (feeling sick to the stomach) or vomiting