Friday, January 6, 2012

A Woman’s First Health Threat

Attention women: If you think heart disease is only for men, think again. Women get heart disease too. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death in women, killing more women than all cancers combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why it’s so important to understand what raises your risk -- and how you can lower it.

Male Doctor Sitting with Woman

For both women and men, the risk for heart attacks rises with age. Having a blood relative with heart disease increases your risk, too. You can’t stop aging or change family members, but there are many risk factors for heart disease that you can modify. They include:
•  obesity
•  diabetes
•  high blood pressure
•  high cholesterol
•  lack of exercise
•  tobacco use

The prescription for controlling these risk factors is familiar: Get plenty of exercise, eat a balanced diet, keep your weight under control, don’t smoke, and see your doctor often. Get your cholesterol checked regularly starting at age 45. If you are a tobacco user or have diabetes, or if heart disease runs in your family, start getting regular cholesterol checks at age 20. Have your blood pressure taken at least every two years, or more frequently if you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Because women die of heart attacks just as men do, you should know the symptoms to watch for. For both men and women, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain or discomfort in the center of the chest. It can be mild or strong, last just a few minutes, or come and go. There may also be radiating pain down the left arm. Some people – especially women -- will experience atypical symptoms. These can include:
•  pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
•  shortness of breath
•  feeling like you can’t get enough air, which can occur before or along with the chest pain or discomfort
•  nausea or vomiting
•  feeling faint or woozy
•  breaking out in a cold sweat

Certain other symptoms of a heart attack tend to occur exclusively in women, including:
•  heartburn
•  loss of appetite
•  fatigue or weakness
•  coughing
•  heart flutters
•  back or jaw pain

If you think that you or someone else may be having a heart attack, call 911. Sometimes the signs of a heart attack can happen suddenly, but they can also develop slowly, over hours, days, and even weeks before a heart attack actually occurs. The more symptoms and signs you have, the more likely it is that you are experiencing a heart attack. Also, if you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may differ if you have another one.

Improving your heart disease awareness can be a lifesaver


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