Women: What is Your Heart Trying to Tell You?
One of the challenges of heart disease and heart attacks is that the signs can be far more subtle in women than in men. Unlike the ‘elephant sitting on your chest feeling’ that’s common in men and hard to ignore, women sometimes experience nausea, upper back pain, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. It’s much easier to mis-attribute those signs to other things and, unfortunately, delay getting critical care.
Because heart disease can affect women at any age—in fact, 1 in 5 heart attacks occur in people age 40 or younger—it’s never too early to learn the signs and take steps to reduce your risks. While chest pain, pressure, and discomfort are often indicators of heart trouble in women, it’s important that all women learn to recognize the other potential signs and take those seriously.
Common signs of heart disease in women:
• Pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or upper belly
• Shortness of breath
• Pain in one or both arms
• Nausea or vomiting
• Lightheadedness or dizziness
• Unusual fatigue and feeling of fogginess, often lasts for days or weeks
• Heartburn or indigestion
• Chest pain
One thing working in women’s favor is estrogen, which actually helps prevent heart disease. However, after menopause, that advantage disappears.
In addition to menopause, other uniquely female conditions and events—pre-term pregnancy and polycystic ovarian syndrome, for example—have the potential to further increase a woman’s risk of developing heart disease.
Concerning risk factors include:
• Stress and depression
• Being post-menopausal
• Pregnancy complications
• Family history of early heart disease
• Inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, etc.)
• Delivering a baby pre-term
Begin lowering your risks today. Changing your habits and lifestyle is never easy but doing so can make a huge difference in the quality of your life tomorrow and for years to come. Remember: you don’t have to do it alone. Tap into the following resources for help making the changes you need to boost your heart health.
Find free in-person or virtual counseling, tools for quitting, and more.
Move More Together At-Home Workouts is a free streaming series from the American Heart Association
A no-cost lifestyle change program from the American Diabetes Association designed to reduce diabetes risk and manage diabetes safely
High Blood Pressure:
Tips for tracking and managing your blood pressure from the American Heart Association.
Scott Rogge, MD, FACC Medical Director of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Cardiology.