Women and Heart Disease

Women and Heart Disease

To protect yourself from having a heart attack, you need to reduce your risk factors and know the signs to watch for. Because coronary heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States, being a proactive patient may very well save your life.

The cholesterol-rich plaque that builds up on the walls of heart arteries — and that leads to coronary heart disease and heart attacks — starts to form in early childhood and builds over a lifetime. When blood can no longer squeeze through the plaque-narrowed artery or when high blood pressure causes the artery to burst, a heart attack occurs.

While you can change some risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure, poor diet, uncontrolled diabetes, and inactivity, for example — there are others you can’t, like genetics and age. The more risk factors you have — if you’re an overweight smoker with high blood pressure, for example — the higher your chances of having a heart attack.

Don’t be shy about starting the discussion about heart health with your doctor and asking for appropriate testing and treatment. “Preventing heart disease before it occurs or leads to a heart attack is the best solution,”. Here are some prevention tips:

If your BMI is above 25, you may be at increased risk for heart disease, and you might want to stick to a sensible diet to bring your weight within the recommended range. If you have trouble losing weight on your own, ask your doctor for suggestions.

Even people with good health habits, though, aren’t always immune. “Heart attacks often strike with little warning,” says David Herrington, MD, associate professor of medicine and cardiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Knowing the signs of an attack can help you recognize the emergency and get lifesaving treatment in time.”

The most common signs of a heart attack are:

Women often experience these signs:

If you have any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention immediately and assertively ask for tests used to diagnose a heart attack, says Herrington. If it isn’t a heart attack after all, you’ve lost nothing. But if it is, the time it takes to get treatment may make the difference between life and death.

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