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Women and Cardiovascular Disease

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler
Women and Cardiovascular Disease

February is American Heart Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is supporting this important initiative by increasing awareness among women — older women in particular — that CVD is their top health threat and by sharing information about uniquely-female-CVD symptoms, and steps women can take to reduce their CVD risks.

For decades, cardiovascular disease (CVD) was considered a “he” not a “she” medical problem. We now know better. In fact, we now know that:

  • More women than men have CVD.
  • The CVD death rate is higher for women than men.
  • In the United States, more than 6.5 million women die annually from CVD and over 53,000 women have fatal heart attacks yearly.
  • CVD causes roughly one death every minute and 16 seconds among females. That’s more than the number of female deaths from cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and diabetes combined.

CVD is a general term used to describe a range of disorders that affect the heart including: coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems, or arrhythmias; heart infections; congenital heart defects; narrowing of the blood vessels; heart attack; stroke; high blood pressure; angina (chest pain); and rheumatic heart disease.

Age and CVD

As you age, so do your blood vessels. They become less flexible, making it harder for blood to flow freely through them. Fatty deposits, called plaques, also collect along artery walls and slow the blood flow from the heart.

While menopause is a normal stage in a woman's life, it can be the catalyst for changes that increase the risk of heart disease. For example, estrogen levels decrease during menopause, which may play a part in the higher risks of heart disease that occurs after menopause.

Women’s Symptoms

While chest pain is the top heart-attack symptom among both men and women, females often experience more subtle symptoms, which often results in a delay in seeking care. For up to a year prior to having a heart attack, women may experience any of these symptoms:

  • unusual fatigue;
  • difficulty sleeping;
  • shortness of breath;
  • indigestion;
  • anxiety;
  • chest pressure;
  • neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort;
  • pain in one or both arms;
  • nausea or vomiting;
  • sweating;
  • lightheadedness or dizziness.

Reduce Your Risks

No woman wants to be one of the more than 6.5 million women who die annually of CVD. If you haven’t taken these steps already, make February the month you proactively reduce your CVD risks by:

Kicking the habit-Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke as few as one to four cigarettes per day. Even if you don't smoke, regular exposure to second-hand smoke can increase your risk.

Increasing your activity-Strive to fit in at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. Other ways to up your activity level include: opting for stairs over elevators; doing yard work; walking rather than driving whenever possible.

Following a heart-healthy diet-Components of a heart-healthy diet are: whole grains; a variety of fruits and vegetables; nuts (about five 5 ounces weekly); poly- and monounsaturated fats, fatty fish (such as wild salmon); and limited intake of trans fats.

Reducing stress/treating depression and anxiety -Your risk for CVD increases if you're depressed or feel chronically stressed. Stress-reducing strategies include exercise, adequate sleep, and meditation. Seeing a therapist often is an effective means of managing or eliminating depression and anxiety.