I never thought it could happen to me. My asthma had been acting up for a few days. My chest felt tight. My upper back and neck were stiff too. I chalked it up to fatigue and stress from the job and maintaining a busy lifestyle. Boy, was I wrong!
When I couldn’t catch my breath several times in one day, my legs turned rubbery after climbing a single flight of stairs, and I felt lightheaded and dizzy, my concern began to grow. I struggled on feeling nauseous and weak, but I still didn’t think the worst. Maybe it was just a severe anxiety attack brought on by the asthma and breathing problems? No, it was much worse! I was one of 735,000 Americans having a heart attack this year.
Different symptoms for women
Heart disease accounts for one in seven deaths in the U.S. and a heart attack strikes someone about every 43 seconds. It occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because the arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances such as plaque. Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., we often believe the symptoms are related to much less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu, or aging.
According to the Mayo Clinic, one reason women don’t recognize that we’re having a heart attack is that we have very different symptoms from men. Women may have all, none, many, or a few of the typical heart attack symptoms that men have. While some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest is still a common indicator of a woman’s heart attack, many have symptoms without any chest pain, such as:
- shortness of breath
- pain in the neck, back, shoulders or jaw
- abdominal pain or “heartburn”
- pain in one or both arms
- nausea or vomiting
- dizziness or fainting
- unusual or unexplained fatigue
Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for more than 17.3 million (or 31%) deaths per year in 2013, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030. The 2017 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update, which is compiled annually by the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other government sources, claims that cardiovascular disease accounts for nearly 801,000 deaths in the U.S.
That equates to 1 of every 3 deaths in the U.S. About 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, an average of one death every 40 seconds. In fact, it claims more lives each year than all forms of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined.
Prevention and control
“Nutrition and exercise are extremely important and often have a greater effect than medication especially in primary prevention of heart attacks,” says Pablo Navarro, MD, FACC, and a Cardiovascular Medicine Associate Professor with Mount Sinai Heart at Beth Israel in New York City. “The challenge is that you can’t predict who is going to have a heart attack or not. Unfortunately, despite the known risk factors of heart disease, you can’t identify everyone based on their family history or smoking. There are people who end up with heart disease who wouldn’t have really been considered at high risk at all.”
Heart disease can be preventable. If you are high risk, here are a few tips to get you on the right path:
Just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50%.
Limit your alcohol consumption
Women should have no more than one drink a day and two for men.
Walking for a half hour a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke. If you have bad joints or mobility issues, swimming is also low-impact exercise that is heart beneficial.
Change your diet
Maintain a healthy weight by eating more nutritious foods like a daily rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Reduce your intake of processed foods. Include more chicken and fish and less red meat. Cut back on salt and butter. Fresh herbs and citrus can brighten up your meals.
Get more sleep
Studies link poor sleep quality to an increased risk of high blood pressure, a potential cause of heart disease. Adults need six to eight hours a night for optimum health.
I am fortunate to be a survivor. Despite my heart attack and subsequent diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure, I can control my heart disease with a low-salt, low-fat diet, exercise, stress management, and a CPAP machine (to control sleep apnea as well).
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title for more information.
Women’s Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms
by Baslee Troutman and J.C. Larse RN
Websites and Videos
Watch, Learn, Live – AHA
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women – AHA
Heart Attack – The Mayo Clinic
Heart Disease Facts – cdc.gov
Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2017 At-a-Glance – AHA
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