Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for a varying degree of conditions that include coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure and stroke, among others. Clinical research has focused on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the risk of development and stem the disease’s progression, yet heart disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death for middle-aged adults, particularly among women.
The CDC recently published its National Vital Statistics Reports that looked at cancer and heart disease death rates from 1999-2017 among adults aged 45-64. The report found that deaths from heart disease-related illnesses grew by 4 percent. Specifically, there was a 3 percent increase in the death rate of men and a 7 percent increase in the death rate of women.
Despite increased awareness about heart disease, the CDC reports that only about half of women know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Studies suggest that women are more likely to overlook common symptoms such as chest pain and pressure, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. In fact, a study published in European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care found that, on average, women wait 37 minutes longer to seek treatment for a heart attack compared to men.
For women and men, it’s critical to listen to your body and understand the symptoms of heart disease, so you can take active steps to reduce your risk.
The most common symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
It is important not to downplay your symptoms, particularly for women, who may experience one or more of these symptoms and often during periods of rest. Early detection is also key—many of the patients I see with heart disease come to the emergency room after the damage has occurred.
Speak with your doctor about your risk factors and take control of your own health. Traditional risk factors include diabetes, obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise or lethargy, excessive alcohol use, smoking, stress, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. A family history of the disease fosters a genetic predisposition and increases the risk of coronary artery disease. For women, pregnancy complications and menopause may also exacerbate risk.
To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, implement and maintain a positive lifestyle. Choosing a diet free of processed foods and low in sugar – rich in low fat protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, engaging in exercise, eliminating tobacco use, consuming alcohol in moderation and mitigating stress are all valued preventative measures. Not all factors are under our control, but for the ones that are, embracing these changes can have a significant impact.
Your health should be your number one priority, as should taking a proactive approach to understanding the risk factors and symptoms of cardiovascular disease. For more information on common cardiovascular conditions, visit our website.