Heart Disease and Women: Heart Healthy Tips

Coronary heart disease, which causes heart attack, is the single leading cause of death for American women. ChicagoHealers.com’s Dr. Martha Howard, M.D., Dipl. Ac. NCCAOM, offers the following warning signs and ways to prevent heart attacks in women.

A November 2003 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, found that a whopping 95 percent of women said they knew their symptoms were new or different a month or more before having their heart attack. Here are the facts and figures on the warning signs:

  • 70.6 percent reported unusual fatigue.
  • 47.8 percent had sleep disturbance.
  • 42.1 percent had shortness of breath.
  • 43 percent had no chest pain during any phase of the attack.
  • 39 percent had indigestion.
  • 35 percent had anxiety.

Unfortunately, most doctors continue to consider chest pain as the most important heart attack symptom in both women and men, so it is important for women to bring any of the above symptoms to the attention of their doctors. In addition to preventing acute heart attacks by being aware of warning signs, long-term prevention equally is important.

Smoking - If you are smoking, make a big effort to quit. It is a huge heart attack risk factor, especially for women.

Sedentary lifestyle - This statistically is a greater risk for women than men. It is even more important to exercise than most of us think it is.

Obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high blood fats – These also are a higher risk for women than men. A particular form of obesity called metabolic syndrome that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood fats and belly fat (waist measurement over 32 inches) is a big risk factor. A low glycemic diet (one that keeps your blood sugar from skyrocketing after meals) and regular exercise are good prevention strategies for metabolic syndrome.

Pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes – Women who develop pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) or gestational diabetes during pregnancy or who have low-birth-weight babies now are thought to have a greater risk of early cardiovascular disease and death. Women with these complications should begin to take an active role in reducing cardiac risk factors, both during pregnancy and from then on.

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