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February 22, 2024

What women should know about their heart health

IU Health West Hospital

What women should know about their heart health

Written by Dr. Amna Ahmed, cardiologist at IU Health West Hospital

February is American Heart Month, an annual observance to encourage people across the country to pay attention to their heart health. For women, this is vital. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 60 million women in the United States are living with heart disease. In fact, it is the leading cause of death for American women. It is responsible for one in every five female deaths. That is more than breast cancer. Research has shown that only about half of U.S. women recognize heart disease is their number one killer. It is crucial to know the signs and symptoms of heart disease so you can lower your risk.

Know the symptoms of heart disease

For women 55 and older, heart disease shows up differently than in men. The symptoms can be subtle—like feeling tired, having trouble breathing or experiencing discomfort in unexpected places like your back or jaw. These signs often don't scream "heart problem," which can delay getting the right diagnosis and treatment. It is very important to keep in mind that hormonal changes after menopause can raise the risk of heart disease, especially if you have risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or family history of heart disease. After menopause, women surpass their male counterparts in risk of heart disease

Among the prevalent forms of heart disease in women, a few stand out. Coronary artery disease (CAD) remains the leading cause, characterized by plaque buildup in the arteries which restricts blood flow to the heart. Additionally, heart failure, where the heart cannot pump blood efficiently, affects women commonly post-menopause. Arrhythmias, irregular heart rhythms, can pose risks, often associated with palpitations or fainting spells. Understanding these common heart diseases empowers women to recognize symptoms early and seek timely medical care, enhancing their heart health journey.

Focus on reducing heart disease risk

Taking care of your heart starts with the choices you make every day. Eating well is a big part of it—focus on lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats like the ones in fish and nuts. Being active regularly matters too. Try to aim for around 150 minutes each week doing things you enjoy, whether it's walking, swimming, dancing or whatever gets your heart pumping. Managing your weight is very important in reducing your risk of developing heart issues. Finding ways to manage stress, like meditation, yoga or hobbies you love, can also help your heart. If you smoke, quitting can also make a huge difference.

Check in with your doctor

Regular check-ups to evaluate your risk factors are your best defense against heart disease. Keep an eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and watch out for signs of diabetes by getting checked regularly. Talking openly with your doctor about your heart health concerns and asking questions can be a game-changer in taking care of yourself.

Getting help early, understanding your medications and any procedures recommended is crucial. Stick to the treatment plan your doctor suggests and don't hesitate to talk about any concerns or side effects.

Lean on others

Having a support network is invaluable. Connecting with others in similar situations, whether through support groups, community events, or online forums, can offer guidance and encouragement.

Your heart is the engine of your vitality. Taking charge of its well-being means making smart choices, keeping up with check-ups and embracing a supportive lifestyle. Prioritizing your heart health isn't just about looking after yourself; it's an investment into a long and healthy life.

Learn more about heart disease and treatment options.

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