February is Go Red For Women month, which is dedicated to increasing awareness about heart disease in women.
Heart disease is our No. 1 killer in the U.S. Women are less likely to survive a first attack than men. Annually, one in three women die from heart disease – that’s about one woman every minute!
Heart disease doesn’t affect all women alike, and more importantly, the warning signs for women aren’t the same in men. One thing is certain, however: This is not a disease of the grandparent; we are seeing heart disease in people at much younger ages. More women than men die from heart disease.
For women experiencing a heart attack, pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest is not always severe or the most prominent symptom. For most women, a heart attack is not that chest-grabbing moment portrayed by Hollywood actors.
Artery blockages tend to occur more frequently in the smaller arteries supplying blood to the heart rather than in the main arteries. In fact, women are more likely to have symptoms unrelated to chest pain.
Those symptoms can include:
neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort (often described as subtle or generalized).
unusual fatigue and sleeplessness (one of the most commonly cited).
shortness of breath.
nausea or vomiting.
light-headedness or dizziness.
Who hasn’t had these symptoms? The kicker is, however, that women tend to ignore the symptoms, even if they have a strong idea the symptoms could signal a heart attack. Women are more likely to delay seeking medical care until it is more “convenient.” Sound familiar?
Treatment for women also is different than for men. According to the American Heart Association, plaque buildup is different to the point that angioplasty and stents can be less effective in women. Medications also have different impacts. For example, aspirin tends to be more effective for men in reducing the risk of a heart attack. For women older than 65, aspirin is used to prevent stroke.
Some key risk factors can effect women more than men. For example, metabolic syndrome (abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides), mental stress, depression, smoking and low estrogen levels (after menopause) are found to play more significant roles in the development of heart disease in women than in men.
Women are at greater risk of stroke than men. Every year, 55,000 more women die of stroke than men, and they die younger. For the first time, new guidelines have been presented about reducing strokes. High blood pressure is being diagnosed younger and younger. Medication for blood pressure is being considered for those with lower numbers. About 2.3 times more women die of stroke than breast cancer.
All of us should know the warning signs of stroke – notice the keyword here is “sudden”:
sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, leg (especially on one side of body)
sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
sudden trouble walking; dizziness; loss of balance or coordination.
sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Call 911 immediately, if you recognize these symptoms in someone.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.