Preventing the No. 1 killer of women: heart disease

February 11, 2014

St. James, Minn. — Heart disease is a serious issue for women. In fact, heart disease kills more women than men each year. Jen Langbehn, D.O., a family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in St. James, wants to raise awareness about women’s heart disease and provide advice for prevention.

 “There are many women who don’t know that they are at a high risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Langbehn. “Raising awareness of heart disease and educating people that there are ways to prevent it really can save lives.”

Risks

It’s well-known that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity are risk factors for heart disease. But there are some risks that affect women more than men:

  • Diabetes
  • Premature menopause (before age 45)
  • Smoking
  • Mental stress
  • Metabolic syndrome – the combination of abdominal fat and high blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides (a fat found in blood)

Heart disease can be a reality at any age – it’s not just for older folks. Be sure to speak with your health care provider if you think you may be at risk.

Heart attack symptoms

A commonly understood symptom is heavy chest pain. While this is often an implication, heart attack signs in women can be very different.

Aside from chest discomfort, women should pay close attention to these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or discomfort in the neck, upper back, shoulder or stomach area
  • Severe lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Extreme fatigue

Since women are more likely to experience a heart attack resulting from microvascular coronary disease – blockage of the smaller arteries that branch off from larger coronary arteries – symptoms in women tend to be more subtle. Don’t wait to seek help if you are concerned that you may be having a heart attack. The longer you wait, the more damage inflicted to your heart.

Prevention

Heart disease and heart attacks are serious issues. But a healthy heart is something you can have with just a little effort. Here are a some tips to reduce your risk:

  • Exercise. An easily-achievable 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day reduces your risk of heart disease. Can’t do 30 minutes? That’s OK, because any amount of physical activity is better than none.
  • Eat right. Avoid foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat and salt. Stack your plate with fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking causes many serious health issues, including heart and lung disease.
  • Consume alcohol in moderation. Women should stick to no more than one alcoholic drink per day. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to heart and liver disease. 

If you have concerns about heart disease, contact your health care provider. Call 877-412-7575 to schedule an appointment. Women can also visit mayoclinichealthsystem.org/womens-health/assessment to assess their heart disease risk.

 

Mayo Clinic Health System consists of Mayo-owned clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities that serve the health care needs of people in more than 70 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest quality health care close to home.



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