A Woman’s View: Heart disease and risks

What is the leading health threat for women in the U.S.?  It isn’t cancer and it isn’t men.

You might be surprised to know that heart disease is the leading killer in women in the U.S. and has been for several years now.  This silent killer hardly ever gets the recognition it deserves.

One of the large reasons that heart disease goes overlooked as the leading cause of death is because most women do not realize the problems — or even the symptoms — of heart disease.

“Wow I totally didn’t know that heart disease was the No. 1 killer,” Jasyme said as she shopped at Franklin Mills Mall.  “I thought that cancer would have been No. 1.  Usually men have the heart trouble, not women — at least I thought that.”

Jasyme was not alone in her assumption; when 20 random women of the Northeast were asked what they thought the leading health issue that caused death in women was, none said heart disease.  According to the American Heart Association about 55,000 more women than men have had strokes and about 60 percent of stroke deaths occur in women.

“You would never think heart disease, because there isn’t too much information out there readily available.  I think it takes a backseat to cancer right now and that can be dangerous,” said Somerton resident Nycolette. “People need to recognize all the risks and need to be aware.”

Studies have shown that many women do not realize they have heart trouble or are having a heart attack because the symptoms are different in women than the those typically associated with men and heart disease.  Women do not usually develop heart disease as early on as men, and heart disease could occur (but is not limited to) later in life.

On studies of women who have reported symptoms prior to having a cardiac event — although these are not typical “heart” symptoms — the warning signs consisted of frequent fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety. The majority of women (78 percent) reported at least one symptom or more for at least one month before their heart attack.  Only 30 percent reported chest discomfort — described as an aching, tightness, pressure, sharpness, burning, fullness or tingling — which is the common assumption of symptoms.  You should consult your doctor for information and possibly schedule an exam if the following occur:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Pain or pressure in the back or high chest
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms
  • Discomfort may be described as pressure, ache, or tightness; may come and go
  • A burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Tooth or jaw discomfort without existing dental issues

If you have a family history of heart disease your risks may be greater and annual checkups with your physician should be scheduled.  (Please remember that I am not a doctor and cannot tell you what is right for you.  This is based on American Heart Association information in an attempt to inform women of the NEast and make them aware of the severity of heart issues.  Consult a doctor for treatment and information if you feel you are at risk.)

If you feel you are having any of the above issues and the pain or risk needs immediate attention, call 911 and sit down with your feet elevated and rest.  Quick treatment of a heart attack can greatly help in preventing death or re-occurrence, which the chances of may increase after your first heart attack.  Even if your symptoms lessen or stop you, should still get your heart checked immediately.

If you have angina or known blood clots, this may increase your risk of heart trouble and emergency action should be taken immediately if you feel any discomfort related to the above symptoms.  A pre-existing heart issue should be watched closely and treated regularly.

Do not ignore your body or your health.  If you feel you are at risk, contact your doctor today for information and make sure to rest.  Heart disease is a serious issue that needs addressing, and the symptoms should not be ignored.  Stress can cause all sorts of health problems, and affect your heart greatly, and is one of the leading causes of heart disease today.  Your health and your body are more important than work or obligations – get yourself checked if you are at risk, and do not wait.

*Please be advised that I am not a doctor and cannot tell you what is right for you.  This is based on American Heart Association information in an attempt to inform women of the NEast and make them aware of the severity of heart issues.  Consult a doctor for treatment and information if you feel you are at risk.

A Woman’s View is a column about women’s issues written by Donna Ward. The column appears every other Thursday on NEastPhilly.com. See others here. Read other NEastPhilly columns here.

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