by Dr. Demilade Adedinsewo, MD – Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death among women in the US and Black women have a higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to White women. Heart disease can also manifest differently in women compared to men. For women experiencing a heart attack, chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom. But women can also have pain in the arms, jaw, back, shoulder, stomach or report shortness of breath.
What increases your risk of heart disease?
Heart disease can occur at any age although the risk appears to increase as women get older. Smoking, hypertension, diabetes, poor diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol and stress can increase your risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, heart disease is also the leading cause of death among new moms and Black women are 4 times more likely to die during pregnancy or after childbirth compared to White women. In addition, some health issue during pregnancy such as high blood pressure, diabetes, preterm delivery, miscarriage/pregnancy loss can increase the risk of heart disease in the future.
When to call 9-1-1
You should call 9-1-1 or get to a hospital right away if you develop any of these symptoms – new or severe pain (in the chest, arms, back or stomach), shortness of breath, nausea/lightheadedness, sudden weakness of any part of your body (face, arm or leg especially if one sided), sudden difficulty speaking or seeing or sudden severe headache. These symptoms could mean you are having a heart attack or a stroke.
What can you do?
There are many things you can do to reduce your risk for heart disease and improve your heart health.
- Stop smoking
- Eat a healthy diet – consider the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet
- Be more active – get at least 30 mins of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week (total of 150 mins per week)
- Maintain a healthy weight – this means losing some weight if your body mass index (BMI) is above 25
You should also reach out to your doctor to check and manage the following:
- Your blood pressure (starting at age 18)
- Your blood cholesterol levels (starting at age 20) and
- Your blood sugar levels (starting at age 45)
*Twitter handle: @DemiladeMD
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