Mother’s Day is celebrated every year in the month of May in the United States. This makes it a great time to emphasize what women should know about their heart health. Heart disease and stroke continue to be the most dangerous threats to a woman’s health. In the U.S., 1 in 4 women die from cardiovascular diseases.
Dr. Sharonne N. Hayes, a cardiologist and founder of the Mayo Clinic Women’s Heart Clinic, says that while women’s heart care has significantly improved in the past 20 years, there is still much to learn about heart disease in women. “There are conditions that affect women that either don’t affect men, like pregnancy-related heart disease, or that affect women differently, such as heart failure,” says Dr. Hayes. We’ve just scratched the surface of what we need to know about heart disease. Each time we peel back a layer, we realize we need to know more.
Some Risk factors that increase the incidence of heart disease are high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol. However, when it comes to these risks, there are differences between men and women. Hypertension is very common as women get older and it becomes a more prevalent risk factor. Dr. Rekha Mankad, a Mayo Clinic Cardiologist, mentions that diabetes has a much bigger difference between men and women. A diabetic woman has a greater risk of heart disease compared to a diabetic man. So, with everything else being equal, if you have diabetes and you’re female, that risk is higher than if you have diabetes and you’re a male. It’s also like smoking because a female smoker has a higher risk than a male smoker. In addition to the traditional risk factors for heart disease, women have nontraditional risk factors, such as pregnancy-related risks.
Heart attack symptoms
Dr. Hayes mentions both men and women have a wide range of symptoms of heart attacks. Knowing what they are and when to call 911 is very important. Anytime there’s chest pressure, pain or discomfort in the chest — it may be in the jaw or radiate to the back or go up to the neck — shortness of breath, as well as cold sweats, nausea and vomiting, or shortness of breath, all of those should signal a need to get emergency help.
Reducing your heart risks
You can reduce your risk of heart disease by not smoking, or quitting if you already do, controlling other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, exercising at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week, eating a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat and maintaining a healthy weight.
Connect with other women talking about their health in the Women’s Health support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic. For more information on health care topics please visit Mayo Clinic Jacksonville mayoclinic.org.