4 out of every 10 women between the ages of 45 and 64 dies from cancer, however 1 in 3 women are living with heart disease – many of whom are unaware that they even suffer from the illness. According to the American Heart Foundation, heart disease is still the number one killer of women in our generation and includes heart attacks, strokes and sudden cardiac arrest which occurs not because of a blockage, but due to a problem with the heart’s electrical system that is unable to pump the blood correctly.
Although it has been misconstrued that heart disease is predominantly a man’s disease, both men and women are affected in different ways. Men who are at risk usually suffer from high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and diabetes; they lead a sedentary life, are likely to be overweight and smoke. Although women can also display these symptoms, diabetes, lack of exercise and obesity are exceptionally dangerous in women. Often times, women put the care of their family and work requirements over their own health, and they tend to ignore signs of looming health issues until it is too late.
A family history of heart disease is an added risk for both sexes, although depression, chronic stress, gestational diabetes during pregnancy, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and early menopause, are additional risk factors that can raise the red flag with regards to women’s health.
The most common sign of a heart attack in both men and women is pressure or tightness in the chest. Women have also been known to experience the following symptoms:
- Unrelated pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, shoulders or arms;
- Feeling unusually tired;
- Shortness of breath;
- Light headed or dizziness;
- Nausea or vomiting
- Profuse sweating
The catch with associating the above symptoms with heart disease, is that some of these issues can be related to other health problems. For example, heavy sweating could also be hot flashes or unusual tiredness could be the flu. If the symptoms worsen as your heart works harder, such as when you are exercising or walking, this is a sign that it could be heart disease and a physician’s advice should be sought immediately.
There is a growing desire to lead a healthy lifestyle and it is important to become pro-active in getting your health back on track. There are a number of things women can undertake to change their lifestyle and lower the risk of developing heart disease, as follows:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet that includes grains and nuts and is devoid of saturated fats and sugars;
- Exercising by doing either aerobic, interval or strength training exercises on a daily basis;
- Don’t start or quit smoking
- Keeping a healthy weight – obesity comes with its own share of health problems
With knowledge and education, women can take charge of their health, make the necessary lifestyle changes and lower the risk factors associated with heart disease – the silent killer among women.