The Smart Woman’s Guide to Avoiding Heart Disease

Okay, ladies, admit it. There are a lot of things we do better than men. We can make dinner, talk to Mom, balance the checkbook, and solve Jenny’s boyfriend problems all at the same time. We can dance in high heels, find the perfect present for the in-laws, and keep our desks and our living rooms equally clean and organized.

But there’s one area where we’re still falling short.

We’re dying more often.

From heart disease.

  • Within the first two weeks after suffering a heart attack, women are twice as likely to die as men.
  • Within a year of suffering a heart attack, about a quarter of men will die, compared to over a third of women.
  • About a fifth of men suffering a heart attack will be disabled because of heart failure; nearly half of women will be.
  • After a heart bypass surgery, women are two to three times likely to die as men.
  • Since 1984, more women than men have died each year form heart disease. That gap continues to widen.

We can blame some of these statistics on the fact that doctors and researchers are still learning about how heart disease affects women. For the longest time, women’s symptoms were misunderstood. Doctors didn’t recognize them, and sent women home when they should have gotten them into treatment immediately.

But we have to take on some of the responsibility ourselves. Studies show women experience more benefits from lifestyle changes (like stopping smoking and getting regular exercise) than men do, yet not enough of us are implementing these changes in our lives.

Though heart health isn’t really a competition, women need to know they’re falling behind, and make changes to protect themselves.

7 Ways Heart Disease is Different in Women Than in Men

To outsmart heart disease, we need to know how it works—and more specifically, how it works in women.

Though most past research was focused on men, more recent studies have looked particularly at women and how the disease acts differently in them. From what we’ve learned so far, here’s what we need to do to reduce risk of a heart attack or stroke:

Risk Factors for Both Genders

In addition to the above, it’s good for women to be aware of other risk factors they share with men. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Elevated levels of homocystein (amino acid in the blood)
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Age (being over 55 for women)

Symptoms are Different—Don’t Delay Seeking Help

Another thing that’s different between women and men are the symptoms of a heart attack. You’ve probably heard this by now, but it bears repeating, as the issue remains serious. According to a recent study by Harvard’s School of Public Health, women are still dismissing or denying warning signs of a heart attack more often than men.

We women are used to taking care of other people. We’ll be fine, we think. It will pass. And we have so much to do! Researchers noted women were more likely to think they’d get better in a few days than men were, and would delay saying anything, even to loved ones.

It can be difficult to be sure if what you’re feeling is related to your heart. When in doubt, always seek help for the following symptoms:

  • Excessive or unexplained fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Jaw or throat pain
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Upper abdominal pain (may feel like indigestion)
  • Chest pain or uncomfortable pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Cold sweat or flu-like feeling

It’s Time to Change the Tide on Heart Disease

You already know you need to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking, and get regular checkups to lower your risk of heart disease. Now you know the extra things you need to do as a woman to protect yourself.

Get started today, and spread the word. It’s time women learned to do as good a job taking care of themselves as they do all the loved ones in their lives.



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