Women and heart disease

Heart disease can mean a variety of conditions that impair the heart’s function. The most common heart disease condition is atherosclerotic heart disease or coronary artery disease that can lead to a heart attack.

Classic signs of heart attack are left-sided or central chest pain that may spread to the jaw or arm, along with sweating and labored breathing. However, these classic signs are often not present in women. Women may only have labored breathing, jaw pain, lightheadedness or extreme fatigue when having a heart attack.

Because women can have different symptoms than the classic signs, they may not realize they are having a heart attack and not seek medical attention right away. Delays can mean more damage to the heart and more potential harm to a woman’s future health. If you are having any of the above symptoms and concerned you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

The best way to prevent a heart attack is to prevent coronary artery disease. A woman has increased risk factors for coronary artery disease if she is a smoker, has a family history of heart attacks or coronary artery disease, has high bad cholesterol levels, or has diabetes.

While you cannot change your family history, you can be in control of lifestyle decisions to decrease risk for heart attacks. Stopping smoking, including electronic cigarettes, can greatly lower risk for heart attacks. Following a heart-healthy diet and exercise routine can also lower your risk. Getting screened for high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and diabetes at your family doctor can lead to early interventions and possibly prevent coronary artery disease. Making these lifestyle changes may be a tough route, but they are the best way to avoid a potential heart attack on your path to wellness.