There are certain things we often talk or hear about in our culture. Take cancer for instance; almost everyone knows someone who has had cancer in the past, or is battling it now. It can be scary. And the media tends to perpetuate the fear even more, especially for women. It’s no wonder that American women seem to have a pre-occupation, perhaps even an obsession, with cancer these days. Skin cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer—facing any cancer is an incredibly frightening thought; but the statistics for full recovery are getting better all the time. Still, we are so overly focused on cancer as a potential killer, while the real threat to women’s lives lurks in the shadows virtually unnoticed.
That threat is heart disease.
Heart disease (which can lead to a heart attack) is the leading cause of death for American women. Yes; heart disease, not cancer. In fact, a woman dies of a heart attack every 8 minutes in this country. Becoming aware of the symptoms and risks, as well as eating a healthy diet and exercising can help to protect against this disease.
When a heart attack strikes, it doesn’t always feel the same in women as it does in men—the crushing chest pain radiating down one arm that men commonly report is experienced much differently in women. For women, the seven most common symptoms are:
- Chest pain, with neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Right arm pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheaded or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
These symptoms occur more often when a woman is at rest, or even asleep. Stress can also be a trigger for many, and a history of heart disease in your family puts you significantly more at risk. If you experience any of the symptoms and believe you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Don’t wait, as this could cause greater or permanent damage to your heart.
There are also several lifestyle changes a woman can make to reduce her risk of heart disease:
- Quit, or don’t start smoking.
- Exercise 30-60 minutes a day, at least three times a week and more if able, or 60-90 minutes if you need to lose weight.
- Maintain a healthy weight—not what the doctor’s chart says, but where you feel your best.
- Eat a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt.
Women tend to be very aware of the emotional matters of the heart, but it’s time to pay attention to the physical matters of the heart too. Be proactive when it comes to your health and life. Pay attention to your own lifestyle, and see your doctor immediately if you believe you are (or might be) at risk.