Not every heart attack begins with a crushing chest pain. Especially for women, the symptoms of a heart attack may be mistaken for something else. Because heart disease is the number one killer of women, what you don’t know can be the matter of life or death -- no matter what your age.
According to Lynne Seacord, MD, Washington University cardiologist, “Women may have a squeezing pressure-type sensation in their chest, and they may also experience abdominal, upper back or neck discomfort, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, dizziness or fainting. Add that to the relative rarity of heart attack in a premenopausal woman and you can begin to understand why a woman with these symptoms, and sometimes her doctor, may have delayed recognition of the process.”
Most women develop heart disease an average of 10 years later than men, typically after menopause, but younger women are certainly not immune. Unfortunately, in part because heart disease in younger women is uncommon, these women tend to delay seeking medical care and consequently, may not do as well.
Women are also more likely to have a condition called the metabolic syndrome, characterized by fat deposition in the abdomen and elevated blood glucose and triglycerides, which raises the risk of coronary disease. Also, certain pregnancy-related complications, such as preeclampsia, raise a woman’s chances of developing heart disease later in life.
Heart health depends on a life-long commitment. This includes not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising daily.
Women with diabetes are also at risk of early heart attack, as are those with severe familial forms of high cholesterol. This is why it is so important to ‘know your numbers” – numbers that count for heart health are your blood pressure (less than 120/80), total cholesterol (less than 200 mg/dL) and triglyceride (less than 150).
It is never too late to assess your risk of heart disease, and to commit to lifestyle changes which will serve you well in the future.
If you have concerns about your heart health, call (314) 362-1291 to make an appointment with Dr. Seacord.
Heart & Vascular Center
Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital
Medical Building Three
1020 N. Mason Road, Suite 100
Creve Coeur, MO 63141